Lesson Kit 2: Cup stacking

This post provides some items that one could use to construct a lesson or activity based on the following video:

h/t Dr. Alec Couros ‏@courosa

This is more a lesson idea than a kit like the last Star Wars puns. But since I have not done another kit, a kit it shall be.

As I was teaching a module on understanding numerical information I used some numbers from the video as a pre-viewing activity.

1. Ask how are the following numbers related?:

1.786s    (world record for fastest time)

622809 people (world record for most people stacking at same time)

5.3s (time journalist achieved)

A frequent response from students here was the rate of births and deaths. (Instead of numbers you could ask say how the following are related – cups, 3-6-3, California)

2. Then ask which of the following is a (Junior) Olympic sport:

Jump rope

Sport/cup stacking

Baton twirling

They are all (Junior) Olympic Sports. Some time may be spent on discussing what these sports are exactly.

3. Next ask students which of these sports are related to the numbers mentioned initially.

4. Tell them the first time they watch the video to not make any notes but simply be prepared to give a reaction/comment.

5. The second time to take notes and invent some questions to ask their classmates.

6. Play for a third time depending on level of your students. Another option is to split the video at about the 4min mark before the part on the specific techniques. And get students to ask questions based on information up to this mark.

Possible vocabulary queries may include what P.E. means (physical education).

Some questions to prompt class if they are feeling taciturn:

What may be problematic for the future of the sport?

When and where did the sport originate?

What features of the cups are mentioned?

What is a scratch?

What is the most frequent pattern?

What do the numbers presented at the beginning refer to exactly?

What is merch short for?

One class wit came up with – When was this form of mental illness discovered : /)

7. As a second stage you can get students to work on some bottom-up listening skills by running the video URL through TubeQuizard.


Click image to go to exercises.

Thanks for reading, hope the video gives you further ideas which I would love to hear about.

Yeah but…A first debate lesson

This post suggests a first lesson for debating. It shows students, via a transcript and its related video, how a formal debate speech is done as many of my students are used to a more free-for-all kind of style.

1. Write on the board the following:

Who’s that?
Right on!
True that.

Tell students that these three things refer to three important ways to persuade people. Invite students to guess what they are.

It is likely they will first recognize the third one – True that. Inform them that this refers to the logic and reason of your arguments. Also known as Logos.
Then add that Who’s that? refers to the credibility and character of the speaker otherwise known as Ethos. Right on! refers to emotion and appeals to the heart, classically called Pathos.

There was a short comment/discussion on what Hilary Clinton & Donald Trump seemed to prefer in terms of Ethos, Pathos and Logos. This can be an opportunity to categorise the style of whoever happens to be the talking point of the moment.

2. Next write on the board 6 bullet points. Tell them that these refer to how the structure of a typical speech is arranged. Ask them to guess what they are.

As students respond add the following to the 6 bullet points:
a. Introduction
b. Statement of facts
c. Division
d. Proof
e. Refutation
f. Conclusion

Add more details to each of the parts, I took mine from Classical Rhetoric 101: The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Arrangement.

I also noted that the statement of facts can be critical as this is where you get the chance to frame your debate. Hence if your opponents try to shift ground you can claim that they are being irrelevant with respect to how you stated your concerns initially.

3. Next in groups of 3 (or 2) instruct 2 (or 1) of them in the group to put in order a jumbled text (I split the text into 10 parts but you could change this, see end of post). The other person will have the text in the correct order. The person with the text can monitor the people/person that have to rearrange the text. Also the person with the text can check whether the text follows the Arrangement outlined previously.

4. After this have a discussion on the text in terms of arrangement. Students may point out that there is not a real Refutation part. This is true though the lines “But like this is only ordinarily regrettable.” and “It’s not hugely harmful.” could be pointed to as being short admissions of weakness.

5. Now play the video. After playing the video ask class for comments about the delivery. Students may mention things like hurried delivery at times, use of “like” and “right”.

6. Ask students to search the text for any things they notice about the language used.

E.g. Use of humour at start – “So my job tonight like all good feminists is to make you hate things you love and to, like, ruin the simple pleasures of life, like going out.”;
Exaggeration/irony“But then what happens was that Taylor Swift has one coffee with Lena Dunham and the whole of the history of feminism was altered for ever.”;
Repetition and groups of three“But, secondly it is just a huge amount of cultural power mis-spent. It’s a huge number of interviews and a huge amount of airtime that she could be spending,”

This lesson took me about an hour. For the remaining 30 mins I asked them in small groups of 5 (or 4) to pick a debate from the idebate.org 100 most popular motions. They then had to work out positions to argue. This was rehearsal for next week’s session where they would perform in their groups in front of the class.

Thanks for reading and I would be very interested to hear about other debate class lessons or ideas or resources.

Lesson Resources:

Video Transcript
So my job tonight like all good feminists is to make you hate things you love and to, like, ruin the simple pleasures of life, like going out. So I’m gonna explain to you why you should be deeply regretful of the rise of Taylor Swift. I’m gonna explain to you why you should wish that she had never exploded the way that she did onto the music scene and why specifically we should regret her faux feminist awakening and all the ways that has helped all the women in the world, specifically Taylor Swift.

So, like, first let’s have a little chat about Taylor Swift pre-feminism. I know it seems like a long time ago but this was only last year, right. This was, like, the album she released before 1989. When she was happy to write lyrics like “She’s an actress better known for what she does in the mattress. She wears high-heels I wear sneakers. She wears short skirts, I wear t-shirts.” And of course “I’m not that kind of girl”, right. Lyrics designed to make clear the superiority of Taylor Swift over, like, some un-named slut-shamed other in her, like, pursuit of the man in the song, right. But like this is only ordinarily regrettable. This is only, like, standard beautiful white woman popstar is imperfect in the mass-media, right. But then what happens was that Taylor Swift has one coffee with Lena Dunham and the whole of the history of feminism was altered for ever. So the the rest of my speech is broken down into what I’ve called Girl Power Squad Feminism, White Feminism, and then lastly Self-Serving Taylorism.

So firstly Girl Power Squad Feminism. What is this? Well, like, basically, this is when Taylor Swift parades out large numbers of supposedly successful but noticeably very beautiful women, stand behind her while she talks about solidarity and girl power. Which means, incidentally, buying tickets to Taylor Swift tours, right. Like, firstly, this is just not good enough, right. That’s not what feminism is. It’s not enough to be just successful and claim that you should be behind her just because she’s a woman. But like, secondly, it’s this really strange version of feminism where she declares that she’s supporting other women by letting them stand behind her on her stage whilst she makes a fortune. Like when she drags out the women’s soccer team and gets them to all stand behind her on a stage, at the, whatever the equivalent is of the Wembley Arena is in New York. Like no-one is helped but Taylor Swift. Like, this is just not interesting feminism. It’s not hugely harmful.

But then we come to White Feminism. And because when your feminism is that simple some women necessarily get left behind. Some women are necessarily not helped by a brand of squad girls, white girl feminism. So let’s see for example her exchange with Nikki Minaj labelled a spat or a cat fight or something other, something else gendered and boring in the media.

So what happens is Nikki Minaj tweets saying that women of color are structurally disadvantaged in the music video. Taylor, poor Taylor, feels victimised and plays the solidarity women card which is what feminism is, remember. She says “All I’ve ever done is love and support you” and then says “If I ever win something you can come and stand behind me like you could at one of my concerts, right. This is, like, a kind of strange feminism that just, like, revolves around Taylor, one, not getting it, not getting like the patriarchy affects women of color differently, that it affects queer women differently, that it affects disabled women differently. That your access to a version of empowerment that is built around looking like Taylor Swift is only available to you if you are a woman who looks like Taylor Swift but, two, this is an example of her like, like getting in the way of other women trying to explain some real problems in the world in order to advance her own personal, likable, girl next door brand.

And this is the thing with Taylor Swift’s feminism it is so transparently self-serving. It’s like so completely designed to enable her to use the language of an emerging social movement, popular feminism for her own PR and financial gains. It’s a way for her to deflect criticism and protect her girl next door likability. So if another artist criticises her for getting undue attention because she is a privileged white woman writing inoffensive pop songs as opposed to a woman of color celebrating black female bodies and empowerment in the music industry. She gets to say that, like this is a breakdown of feminist solidarity right. Because of course to be a feminist is to love and support Taylor Swift. It enables her to defend herself against the less powerful right. In the same way that she like uses her enormously powerful team of legal experts to sue people who make “Shake it Off” branded mugs and sell them on Etsy for six dollars. Taylor Swift is using her power against those less powerful than her which includes like Etsy vendors, Niki Minaj and all other women who aren’t Taylor Swift.

So we’re proved she’s not a perfect feminist but does that make her by herself especially regrettable? Well I think it does for several reasons.

Because firstly she hijacks the emerging movement of popular feminism. Something that is, like, building a groundswell of support amongst young women who are starting for the first time to call themselves feminist. And makes it about something just too simple and too easy and that crucially does absolutely no good to anyone but a tiny number of women, right.

But, secondly it is just a huge amount of cultural power mis-spent. It’s a huge number of interviews and a huge amount of airtime that she could be spending, like, actually helping someone, raising money for women’s charities or, like, doing something else.

But lastly, like, it just obscures the work it takes to live a properly feminist life, by making it too easy, by making it all like squad girls, goals and selfies and for me that’s not good enough. Propose.

From 1m45 to 7m33

Exploiting linguistics in the language class

Strange title you may say, don’t we always exploit linguistics in class? Certainly, what I look at here is presenting explicit linguistic information in the form of “factoids” or “trivia”. I have done this over a number of weeks with one class as a warmer activity. I word the warmer as Language Trivia.

Examples of such items have included:
American Dialect Society’s Word of the Year (2015) and associated lists
French phrases hidden in English Words
Selena Gomez’s “Good For You” And The Rise Of “Indie Pop Voice”
Top phrasal verbs in English, using the PHaVE dictionary
Mysteries of vernacular: Robot

After some weeks I asked the students to bring in their own examples of language trivia. There were some great examples which I may use later. For example one student told me that all the letters of English are contained in the phrase – The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dogs, an example of a pangram.

Sometimes the reactions of students to the linguistic information is great to watch. Language trivia are a great way to activate the natural curiosity people have with language.

If you keep an eye on social media there are many examples of language trivia that can be used.

Have you tried something similar in your classes? Do share any language trivia you have come across.

Thanks for reading.

Lesson Kit 1: Star Wars puns

This post provides some items that one could use to construct a lesson or activity based on the following video:

h/t John Spencer ‏@spencerideas.

The kit includes a bingo pdf (generated from http://print-bingo.com/) and a docx of the relevant puns.

One idea is to test listening skills via the bingo card (columns L and A are the winning columns), further work could be done on explaining the first three/four puns in the text file.
Another thing to do is use phonetically transcribed word in bingo card.

Do let me know of other things that could be done.

Hope this is a lesson kit you are looking for : )


Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qslJQUMc9yA



Labour and the Greens visit Paris (or a debating rhetoric lesson)

This post may be of interest to debating courses, and in particular those wanting to introduce a bit of rhetorical analysis.

First off I used a photo prompt to get students to come up with a debating point. I would normally use a video but finding decent videos takes time. Finding a photo is faster and leaves room for more interpretation, for this class I used a photo of people camping outside an Apple shop.

The students produced three topics – brand addiction, consumer society, power of advertising. They then formulated “This house believes/would” sentences such as This house believes that society suffers from brand addiction. The class then broke into groups, picked a formulation, they had 5 min preparation time and debated for some 10-15mins (timings will vary according to student level and emergent issues).

Rhetorical analysis

I showed the class the Veni, Vidi, Vici quote along with the English equivalent (I came, I saw, I conquered) pointing out that this was one kind of rhetorical technique that repeats some language structure (technically called a tricolon though I did not use this term with students). I also noted that this kind of pattern tends to come near the end of a sentence or clause.

I then showed them an extract from the Martin Luther King I have a dream speech and pointed out the repeated use of the same words – I have a dream, one day. Adding that this repeating device often comes at the beginning of a sentence or clause.

I also took the opportunity of highlighting an example of a repeating structure (every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight).

Next I mentioned the upcoming UK elections and that they were going to analyze two introductions from the election manifestos of the Labour party and the Green party. Letting them know I picked these two parties due to the text all fitting on one side of A4 paper :).

In groups of two I gave them three tasks:
1. count the words in each sentence and plot the number of words vs sentence number
2. identify repeating words
3. identify repeating structures

Once they had done this they were asked to find another pair with the same text and compare notes.

As I saw pairs finishing I went round and asked them questions about the shape of the graph and why the writer would want to use such a pattern, on the repeating lexical and structural patterns they identified and the possible effects of such usage on persuading a reader.

Finally pairs did the same with the second manifesto introduction.

For the next class they were told to rewrite their arguments from the earlier mini-debate using the information they had gained from their rhetorical analysis.

Thanks for reading and roll on Thursday May 7 2015.


American Rhetorics: Rhetorical figures in sound

The forest of rhetoric

UK 2015 manifesto forewords

UK 2015 manifestos venncloud

Wmatrix corpus analysis of UK General Election Manifestos

Dictionnaire Cobra 2 – fast by name fast by nature

This post may be useful for people teaching TOEIC to French students – I know you are out there ;).

I have already mentioned the Cobra Dictionary and my use of it. To recap I used a gap fill activity (using the word bid) as a first stage, then a dictation activity as a second stage (where students needed to match the dictated English sentences to given French equivalents) and a reverse translation activity (students translated the given  French sentences to English and check with original English sentences) as a third stage.

A recent post on using translation over on LexicalLab reminded me to come up with a similar activity for my 2nd semester TOEIC students.

Looking at salient words in Unit 1 of the book Cambridge Target Score I chose the following:

as search words in the Cobra dictionary. I chose two examples for each keyword for a total of  eight sentences. I then made a simple gap fill for the English sentences as Handout 1:

1. Some of the conditions in the ————— are too stringent.

2. It is the second phase of a three-part —————.

3. How many —————s were there?

4. —————s should send their CV, a list of publications and a copy of their best papers.

5. The —————s lasted from 30 to 60 minutes, and questions examined :

6. After a brief —————, we look into whether we can offer you a job (depending on the vacancies we have).

7. A —————ing scheme.

8. To ————— teams.


And a separate file with French equivalents as Handout 2:

A) Les entretiens ont duré de trente à soixante minutes et les questions abordées étaient les suivantes :

B) Combien de candidats y avait-il?

C) Un programme de formation.

D) Il s'agit de la seconde partie d'un contrat qui comprend trois volets.

E) Certaines clauses du contrat sont trop strictes.

F) Entraîner des équipes.

G) Après un court entretien avec le candidat, la décision est prise de lui proposer ou non un poste (en fonction des postes vacants).

H) Les candidats sont priés d'envoyer leur CV, une liste de publications et une copie de leurs meilleurs articles scientifiques

This took me about 10-15mins to do.

Thanks for reading.

A 2nd tipple of the TED Corpus Search Engine

Here is a short (and no doubt to some obvious) note about working with the TED Corpus Search Engine,TCSE. I was looking at examples of the use of route, there are 126 results. I want my students to go through these and transcribe the 2 different ways the word is said. 126 is however too long, so a simple way to reduce this is to use the n-gram feature.

For 2-grams we get:

1 route to 13
2 the route 12
3 route of 5
4 a route 6
5 this route 4

So I could use route to with strong students with 13 examples that they would have to listen to and this route with weak students as they would just need to examine 4 examples.

FYI TCSE can now play search term immediately with an option to start 10 seconds earlier.

Thanks for reading.

P.S. Do check out the first tipple of the TCSE if you haven’t yet.