Why Are So Many People Superstitious?

“…a new acquaintance said to me shortly after I moved to Portland, Ore. ‘I think I saw you running by the river yesterday.”Did you jump up like Michael Jordan to touch a leaf?’ Indeed, I had.’I was probably stretching,’ I offered. ‘Yeah,’ he said doubtfully.’It really looked like you were high-fiving a tree.’ I was actually touching leaves and flowers for luck, which I’ve done since earliest childhood.” K. Russell, The New York Times

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

image- lopezmedia.net

 

Excerpt:Letter of Recommendation: Superstitions, Karen Russell, The New York Times

“Superstitious people are often dismissed as irrational, stunted thinkers — mental children who never outgrow a scrambled understanding of causality. Even those studies that confirm ‘Improved performance’ for superstitious athletes can sound patronizing, hypothesizing that rituals like Serena Williams’s five bounces before her first serve work by conferring ‘the illusion of control.’ 

But those of us who carry charms and sidestep ladders will tell you that superstitions can have an undeniable power. Not because they change the future, but because they articulate a wish. Superstitions are a special syntax, the ellipses we use to bridge the present and the dreamed-of future. Humble, hopeful, fearful, human.

Image-NBC news

My dad, a Navy veteran and the most superstitious person I know, would throw salt over his shoulder to reverse bad luck, occasionally hitting a Denny’s waiter in the face. ‘Don’t worry, kids!’ he would call out as he went diving into the bushes to avoid an inky kitten. ‘I saw a little gray around the paws!’

From him, I learned that superstitions can be a form of prayer, as well as an exorcism in miniature. You release the fear that comes from feeling responsible for everything that happens to you — an especially American delusion… Fear does animate certain superstitions, but even this becomes a kind of thanksgiving. Flip the coin of fear, and you rediscover the ‘everything’ you have to lose…

Superstitions might not ward off suffering and death, but they can draw a dream into focus. ‘Our baby daughter is due this August,’ I have finally been able to tell people, after the tenuous early months when this felt unutterable. It’s a sentence I always punctuate by knocking on wood. Ancient people did this to summon dryads, the benevolent spirits inside trees. Far from conferring ‘the illusion of control,’ the sound connects me to everyone who has ever dared to hope for anything in this life with its single guarantee.”

 

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced


Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.


Time: Approximately 2 hours.


Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.


Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

 

Pre-reading Tasks

 Predictions: Using a Pre-reading Organizer

Directions:  Ask students to examine the title of the post and of the actual article they are about to read. Then, have them  examine the photos. Ask students to write a paragraph describing what they think this article will discuss. Students can use a Pre-reading organizer for assistance.

Pre-reading Organizer By Scholastic

 

II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. I met a new acquaintance yesterday.
  2. He was frowning a little as he thought about my answer.
  3. I was aghast that this had been visible at rush hour
  4. They gave each other a high five at the end of the game.
  5. Superstitions can have an undeniable power.
  6. I learned that superstitions can be a form of prayer, as well as an exorcism in miniature.
  7. Superstitions might not ward off suffering and death.
  8. Fear does animate certain superstitions.
  9. Superstitious people are often dismissed as irrational.
  10. My dad, is a Navy veteran and the most superstitious person I know.

Grammar Focus: English SubjectPronouns

Directions:Students are to choose the correct subject pronouns in the sentences taken from the article.Review Subject pronouns here

A few months later, at the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, a friend waved me over. ‘Hey! I thought that was you. Were you praying back there?’ She’d seen me kneeling in mud, touching a solar-yellow dandelion. ‘Yes,’ I said, to expedite my day, because this seemed less bonkers than explaining what I was actually doing. From him, I learned that superstitions can be a form of prayer, You release the fear that comes from feeling responsible for everything that happens to you —

Reading Comprehension Fill-ins

Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentencestaken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.

After ___Andrew ___our___in 1992 (a nine-foot storm surge seemed to choose us, leaving the other___on our block largely untouched), I ___a repertoire of new ___overnight, like mental___sprouting out of the ___that had flooded up to our ceiling.

WORD LIST:saltwater,mushrooms, developed, houses, Hurricane,destroyed, home, superstitions

Discussion/Comprehension Questions

  1. The article states, Superstitious people are often dismissed as irrational, stunted thinkers — mental children who never outgrow a scrambled understanding of causality.”Do you agree or disagree with this statement?  Explain why.
  2. What makes people superstitious?
  3. Are there any superstitions that you like?What are they?
  4. Are your relatives or friends superstitious? Give examples of some of their  superstitions.

Group Project:

Directions: In groups review the following website: Bad Luck Signs. Choose a few of the superstitions listed. Try to think about  how they might have started.  Share your ideas with the class.

3-2-1-Writing

Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about the topic from the reading,  two things they did not understand in the reading, and one thing they would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.

ANSWER KEY

Category: Culture | Tags:

Helping Them Make The Transition From Prisoner Back To Citizen

“Raymond Tillman spent most of his adolescence and early adulthood behind bars… When he got out, [in 2011] he had a lot to catch up on — like, the digital age. He remembers his first computer class, looking down at the floor for a mouse. ‘There was a mouse? Where?The teacher pointed to a little black device with a cord connecting it to the computer. ‘I’m like ‘Wow!’ Feel like I was a caveman.’ E. Nadworny, NPR

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post  with Answer Key

Credit- Anke Gladnick for NPR

Excerpt:Changing How You Think Helps The Transition From Prisoner Back To Citizen, By Elissa Nadworny NPR

“When I first came home I was illiterate to technology,” he explains. ‘Didn’t know how to turn on a computer, let alone what an email was.’ But he needed a job, and to get one, he’d need to be able to apply online.

A parole officer suggested Tillman go to the Cal State San Bernardino Reentry Initiative, a promising new program designed to smooth the transition from offender back to citizen. A big portion of the U.S.’s record-setting prison population is re-offenders, so re-entry centers work to get those numbers down by helping people on parole get the tools they need to function in society — so they eventually stay out of prison. Programs are like a bridge, between the world of corrections and the world of social services.

At other times in Raymond Tillman’s life, he would have blown this off, but this time — and he doesn’t even know why — he showed up and followed through…

Catching up on technology is one of the biggest challenges, says Andrea Mitchel — director of research and development at the re-entry center at Cal State. ‘They come out not having any knowledge of it,’ she says, ‘and then they are expected to get into the workforce. ‘ So far, the results here in San Bernardino are promising. Across four centers in the county, they’ve served about 6,000 students to date. Attendance rates are high, and more than half of the current students are now employed.”

 

Interesting Fun Read : A Lowell teacher keeps a document of slang terms used by his students — and the Internet loves it-By Steve Annear, The Boston Globe

“Usually it’s the students who are constantly brushing up on their vocabulary so they can be as prepared as possible for school.

But in the case of James Callahan, a teacher in the social studies department at Lowell High School, it’s the other way around.

Callahan, who has been teaching at the school for 15 years, keeps an alphabetized document of all the slang words and phrases that his students throw around and use regularly so that he can stay abreast of the latest lingo.”

 

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced


Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.


Time: Approximately 2 hours.


Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.


Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities: 

 Predictions: Using a Pre-reading Organizer

Directions:  Ask students to examine the title of the post and of the actual article they are about to read. Then, have them  examine the photos. Ask students to write a paragraph describing what they think this article will discuss. Students can use a Pre-reading organizer for assistance.

Pre-reading chart by J. Swann

 

II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. Raymond Tillman spent most of his adolescence and early adulthood behind bars.
  2. When I first came home I was illiterate to technology.
  3. The program was designed to smooth the transition from offender back to citizen.
  4. At other times in Raymond Tillman’s life, he would have blown this appointment off.
  5. Catching up on technology is one of the biggest challenges,
  6. A decade ago, this center was just an idea Mitchel had.
  7. Most people who get out do want to get off the merry-go-round.
  8. On the board there’s a diagram depicting how thoughts are related to emotions, and then behavior.
  9. Program participants are called students.
  10. The program is focused on job training.

 Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage

Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical  error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.

I

  1. He needed an job.
  2. People eventually stay out of prison.
  3. He took nearly every class the center offered.

II

  1. He remembers him first computer class.
  2. Catching up on technology is one of the biggest challenges.
  3. They are expected to get into the workforce.

III

  1. It took a few years to make that idea a reality.
  2. The center is housed in a modern, two-story building.
  3. This is a respectful place.

Reading Comprehension: Fill-ins

Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentences  taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.

A ___ago, this ___was just an ___Mitchel had. Back then, she was working at ___and saw a ___economy. Most people had jobs, except for those who had previously been___.

WORD LIST:   Goodwill, center, booming, incarcerated,  idea,  decade,

 

Discussion Questions for Comprehension /Writing

Directions: Place students in groups and have them discuss the following questions/statements.

  1. Do you think programs  such as Cal State San Bernardino Reentry Initiative are  useful? Explain why or why not.
  2. Do you know of anyone who has been through a rehabilitation program? If so, describe how they were changed by the program.
  3. The article states, The program is focused on job training, but as we walk through the center, it’s evident that’s it’s more than that.”  What other things does the program do for people?
  4. If you could ask the students in the program two questions, what would they be? Share your questions with the class.

 

ANSWER KEY

“We Are Speeding Extinction And Altering the Natural World”

For a long time, people just thought of biodiversity as saving nature for its own sake,” said Robert Watson, chairman of the group that conducted the assessment. “But this report makes clear the links between biodiversity and nature and things like food security and clean water in both rich and poor countries.” B. Plumer, The New York Times

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Fishing nets and ropes are a frequent hazard for olive ridley sea turtles, seen on a beach in India’s Kerala state in January. Getty Images

 

Excerpt: Humans Are Speeding Extinction and Altering the Natural World at an ‘Unprecedented’ Pace, By Brad Plumer,

“Humans are transforming Earth’s natural landscapes so dramatically that as many as one million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction, posing a dire threat to ecosystems that people all over the world depend on for their survival, a sweeping new United Nations assessment has concluded.

The Missouri River encroaches on homes in Sioux City, Iowa, during a 2011 flood Stocktrek Images: Media Bakery

The 1,500-page report, compiled by hundreds of international experts and based on thousands of scientific studies, is the most exhaustive look yet at the decline in biodiversity across the globe and the dangers that creates for human civilization.

A summary of its findings, which was approved by representatives from the United States and 131 other countries, was released Monday in Paris. The full report is set to be published this year.

Moe Flannery of the California Academy of Sciences inspected a dead gray whale in Tiburon, Calif., last month, one of seven whales that have washed up on shore. Huston Chronicle

Its conclusions are stark. In most major land habitats, from the savannas of Africa to the rain forests of South America, the average abundance of native plant and animal life has fallen by 20 percent or more, mainly over the past century. With the human population passing 7 billion, activities like farming, logging, poaching, fishing and mining are altering the natural world at a rate ‘unprecedented in human history.’

Cattle grazing on a tract of illegally cleared Amazon forest in Pará State, BrazilCreditLalo de Almeida for The New York Times.

At the same time, a new threat has emerged: Global warming has become a major driver of wildlife decline, the assessment found, by shifting or shrinking the local climates that many mammals, birds, insects, fish and plants evolved to survive in.

When combined with the other ways humans are damaging the environment, climate change is now pushing a growing number of species, such as the Bengal tiger, closer to extinction.

Volunteers collected trash in March in a mangrove forest in Brazil. MSN.com

As a result, biodiversity loss is projected to accelerate through 2050, particularly in the tropics, unless countries drastically step up their conservation efforts.

The report is not the first to paint a grim portrait of Earth’s ecosystems. But it goes further by detailing how closely human well-being is intertwined with the fate of other species.

Extinction is happening at 1,000 times the normal speed. Quartz

In the next two years, diplomats from around the world will gather for several meetings under the Convention on Biological Diversity, a global treaty, to discuss how they can step up their efforts at conservation. Yet even in the new report’s most optimistic scenario, through 2050 the world’s nations would only slow the decline of biodiversity — not stop it.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced


Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.


Time: Approximately 2 hours.


Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.


Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

 Predictions: Analyzing headings and photos

Directions:  Have students  examine the titles of the post and of the actual article. After they examine the photos, ask students to create a list of  words and  ideas  that they think might be related to this article. 

II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. Extinction is occurring at an unprecedented pace.
  2. As many as one million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction.
  3. The report is the most exhaustive look yet at the decline in biodiversity.
  4. A new threat has emerged, the decline of wildlife.
  5. Biodiversity loss is projected to accelerate through 2050.
  6. The report is not the first to paint a grim portrait of Earth’s ecosystems.
  7. As natural landscapes wither the services they provide to humans have been dwindling.
  8. The devastation of nature has become so severe, wildlife refuges will no longer be sufficient.
  9. All told, three-quarters of the world’s land area has been significantly altered by people.
  10. 85 percent of the world’s wetlands have vanished since the 18th century.

Word Map by Against the Oddstiff

 

Grammar Focus: Word -Recognition

Directions: Students choose the correct word to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented.

Humans/Human are produced/producing more food than ever, but land degradation is/are already harming/harmful agricultural productivity on 23 percent of the planet’s land area, the new/knew report said. The decline/declining of wild bees and other insects/insect that help pollinate fruits and vegetables is putting up to $577 billion in annual crop production at risk.

Reading Comprehension: Fill-ins

Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentencestaken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.

The ___rain forest ___immense ___of carbon dioxide and helps slow the pace of ___warming. Wetlands ___drinking water. Coral reefs ___tourism and fisheries in the Caribbean. Exotic tropical___form the basis of a variety of medicines. But as these___ landscapes___ and become less biologically rich, the services they can provide to ___have been dwindling.

WORD LIST: absorbs, sustain, quantities, plants, humans, Amazon, natural, wither, global, purify.

 

Discussion Questions for Comprehension /Writing

Directions: Place students in groups and have them discuss the following questions/statements. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the topics mentioned.

  1. According to the article, what activities have increased global biodiversity loss?
  2. Why could it become harder in the future to breed hardier crops and livestock?
  3. The article states that, “in addition to advocating the expansion of protected areas, the authors outline a vast array of changes aimed at limiting the drivers of biodiversity loss.” What will the following groups of people have to learn to do?  Farmers and ranchers; Consumers in wealthy countries;  Governments around the world.

Group Projects

Directions: Have groups visit the  Earth Day Network and do the following:

Make a list of ways each endangered species might be saved.

Create a list of things we can all do to help the environment.

Create  collages, graphs or pictures of endangered species.

3-2-1-Writing

Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about the topic from the reading,  two things they did not understand in the reading, and one thing they would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.

ANSWER KEY

Relearning How To Teach Reading…The Correct Way

“Jack Silva didn’t know anything about how children learn to read. What he did know is that a lot of students in his district were struggling. Silva is the chief academic officer for Bethlehem, Pa., public schools. In 2015, only 56 percent of third-graders were scoring proficient on the state reading test. That year, he set out to do something about that.” E. Hanford, NPR

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Credit- LA Johnson:NPR

Excerpt: Why Millions Of Kids Can’t Read And What Better Teaching Can Do About It, Emily  Hanford,  NPR

“Bethlehem is not an outlier. Across the country, millions of kids are struggling. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 32 percent of fourth-graders and 24 percent of eighth-graders aren’t reading at a basic level. Fewer than 40 percent are proficient or advanced.

One excuse that educators have long offered to explain poor reading performance is poverty. In Bethlehem, a small city in Eastern Pennsylvania that was once a booming steel town, there are plenty of poor families. But there are fancy homes in Bethlehem, too, and when Silva examined the reading scores he saw that many students at the wealthier schools weren’t reading very well either.

Silva didn’t know what to do. To begin with, he didn’t know how students in his district were being taught to read. So, he assigned his new director of literacy, Kim Harper, to find out.Harper attended a professional-development day at one of the district’s lowest-performing elementary schools. The teachers were talking about how students should attack words in a story. When a child came to a word she didn’t know, the teacher would tell her to look at the picture and guess.The most important thing was for the child to understand the meaning of the story, not the exact words on the page.

Traci Millheim tries out a new lesson with her kindergarten class at Lincoln Elementary in Bethlehem, Pa.Emily Hanford:APM Reports

So, if a kid came to the word “horse” and said ‘house,’ the teacher would say, that’s wrong. But, Harper recalls, ‘if the kid said ‘pony,’ it’d be right because pony and horse mean the same thing.’ Harper was shocked. First of all, pony and horse don’t mean the same thing. And what does a kid do when there aren’t any pictures?

This advice to a beginning reader is based on an influential theory about reading that basically says people use things like context and visual clues to read words. The theory assumes learning to read is a natural process and that with enough exposure to text, kids will figure out how words work. 

Credit: Barnes and Noble

Yet scientists from around the world have done thousands of studies on how people learn to read and have concluded that theory is wrong. One big takeaway from all that research is that reading is not natural; we are not wired to read from birth. People become skilled readers by learning that written text is a code for speech sounds. The primary task for a beginning reader is to crack the code. Even skilled readers rely on decodingMichelle Bosak, who teaches English as a second language in Bethlehem, said that when she was in college learning to be a teacher, she was taught almost nothing about how kids learn to read…Bosak was among the first group of teachers in Bethlehem to attend the new, science-based classes, which were presented as a series over the course of a year. For many teachers, the classes were as much about unlearning old ideas about reading — like that contextual-guessing idea — as they were about learning new things.”

*******************************************************************************************

Extra: Something Very Nice To Watch:

How A Palestinian Teacher Greets Her Students!

 

 

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced


Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.


Time: Approximately 2 hours.


Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.


Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

 Predictions: Using a Pre-reading Organizer

Directions:  Ask students to examine the title of the post and of the actual article they are about to read. Then, have them  examine the photos. Ask students to write a paragraph describing what they think this article will discuss. Students can use a Pre-reading organizer for assistance.

Pre-reading chart by J. Swann

 

II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. Bethlehem is not an outlier.
  2. Fewer than 40 percent are proficient or advanced.
  3. Kim Harper was the new director of literacy.
  4. This advice to a beginning reader is based on an influential theory.
  5. This guessing approach is enshrined in materials and handbooks used by teachers.
  6. Even skilled readers rely on decoding. 
  7. This contextual guessing approach is enshrined in materials.
  8. The child was prompted to sound out the entire word.
  9. The children are successful and happy.
  10. The main goal was to expose kids to lots of text and get them excited about reading

ELLteaching 2.0 vocabulary chart

 

 Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage

Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical  error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.

I

  1. Bethlehem is not and outlier.
  2. There are fancy homes in Bethlehem.
  3. The theory is wrong.

II

  1. Harper attended an professional-development day.
  2. The teachers were talking about how students should attack words in a story.
  3. Pony and horse don’t mean the same thing.

III

  1. The theory assumes learning to read is a natural process.
  2. Even skilled readers  rely on decoding.   
  3. This was an class on the science of reading.

 

Reading Comprehension

True /False/NA-Statements

Directions: Review the following statements from the reading.  If  a statement is true they mark it T. If the statement is  not applicable, they mark it NA. If the statement is false they  mark  it F and provide the correct answer. 

  1. Jack Silva is the chief academic officer  for  Bronx, New York, public schools.
  2. Silva didn’t know anything about how children learn to read.
  3. One excuse that educators have long offered to explain poor reading performance is too much play time during school.
  4. Kim Harper  new  the director of literacy for Bethlehem school.
  5. One theory assumes learning to read is a natural process.
  6. The primary task for a beginning reader is to guess the word.
  7. The contextual guessing approach is what a lot of teachers in Bethlehem had learned.
  8. When a child comes to a word she doesn’t know,There should guessing.
  9. In the class, teachers spent a lot of time going over the sound structure of the English language.
  10. The starting point for reading is sound, and it’s critical for teachers to have a deep understanding of this.

 

Ask/Answer Questions

Directions:  Place students in groups and have each group list 3  questions they would like to pursue in relation to  the article. Have groups exchange questions. Each group tries to answer the questions listed. All responses are shared as a class.

ANSWER KEY

Category: Education | Tags:

“High School Doesn’t Have to Be Boring”

“When you ask American teenagers to pick a single word to describe how they feel in school, the most common choice is ‘bored.’ The institutions where they spend many of their waking hours, they’ll tell you, are lacking in rigor, relevance, or both.They aren’t wrong.” J. Mehta and S. Fine, The New York Times

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Credit Ping Zhu, New York Times

 

Excerpt: High School Doesn’t Have to Be Boring By Jal Mehta and Sarah Fine, The NYT

“Studies of American public schools from 1890 to the present suggest that most classrooms lack intellectual challenge. A 2015 Gallup Poll of nearly a million United States students revealed that while 75 percent of fifth-grade students feel engaged by school, only 32 percent of 11th graders feel similarly.

What would it take to transform high schools into more humanizing and intellectually vital places? The answer is right in front of us, if only we knew where to look.

When the two of us — a sociologist and a former English teacher — began our own investigation of this question several years ago, we made two assumptions. Both turned out to be wrong.

The first was that innovative schools would have the answers. We traveled from coast to coast to visit 30 public high schools that had been recommended by leaders in the field. What we saw, however, was disheartening. Boredom was pervasive. Students filled out worksheets, answered factual questions, constructed formulaic paragraphs, followed algorithms and conducted “experiments” for which the results were already known. Covering content almost always won out over deeper inquiry — the Crusades got a week; the Cold War, two days.

The result? In lower-level courses, students were often largely disengaged; in honors courses, students scrambled for grades at the expense of intellectual curiosity. Across the different class types, when we asked students to explain the purpose of what they were doing, their most common responses were ‘I dunno’ and ‘I guess it’ll help me in college.’

Our second mistake was that we assumed the place to look for depth was in core academic classes. As we spent more time in schools, however, we noticed that powerful learning was happening most often at the periphery — in electives, clubs and extracurriculars.

Intrigued, we turned our attention to these spaces. We followed a theater production. We shadowed a debate team. We observed elective courses in green engineering, gender studies, philosophical literature and more.

As different as these spaces were, we found they shared some essential qualities. Instead of feeling like training grounds or holding pens, they felt like design studios or research laboratories: lively, productive places where teachers and students engaged together in consequential work. It turned out that high schools — all of them, not just the ‘innovative’ ones — already had a model of powerful learning. It just wasn’t where we thought it would be.

Consider the theater production that we observed at a large public high school in an affluent suburban community. Students who had slouched their way through regular classes suddenly became capable, curious and confident. The urgency of the approaching premiere lent the endeavor a sense of momentum. Students were no longer vessels to be filled with knowledge, but rather people trying to produce something of real value.

Coaching replaced’professing’ as the dominant mode of teaching. Apprenticeship was the primary mode of learning. Authority rested not with teachers or students but with what the show demanded.

What we saw on a debate team in a high-poverty urban public school was similar. Monthly debate competitions gave the work a clear sense of purpose and urgency. Faculty members and older students mentored the novices. Students told us that ‘debate is like a family.’

Perhaps most important, debate gave students a chance to speak in their own voices on issues that mattered to them. Inducted into an ancient form of verbal and mental discipline, they discovered a source of personal power…It should come as no surprise that when we asked students to reflect on their high school experiences, it was most often experiences like theater and debate that they cited as having influenced them in profound ways…The more we can create similar opportunities in core subjects — giving students the freedom to define authentic and purposeful goals for their learning, creating opportunities for students to lead that learning, and helping them to refine their work until it meets high standards of quality — the deeper their learning and engagement will be.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced


Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.


Time: Approximately 2 hours.


Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.


Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

Stimulating background knowledge: Brainstorming

Directions: Place students in groups, ask students to think about what they already know about  the topic.  Next, have students look at the pictures in the text and generate ideas or words that may be connected to the article.  Regroup as a class and list these ideas on the board. Students can use a brainstorming chart for assistance.

Brainstorming Map by rentonschools.us

 

II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. Debate, drama and other extracurriculars provide the excitement.
  2. What would it take to transform high schools into more vital places?
  3. Some innovative schools might have the answers.
  4. We traveled from coast to coast to visit 30 public high schools, what we saw, however, was disheartening.
  5. In lower-level courses, students were often largely disengaged.
  6. We assumed the place to look for depth was in core academic classes.
  7. As different as these spaces were, we found they shared some essential qualities.
  8. Students who had slouched their way through regular classes suddenly became capable and confident.
  9. The truly powerful core classes echoed what we saw in extracurriculars.
  10. Most important of all, high school students need to be granted much more  responsibility and choice.

 

Grammar Focus: English Pronouns

Directions:  Students choose the correct [Subject pronouns] to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented.

English Subject pronouns: I, you, he, she, it, we, they

When ___ask American teenagers to pick a single word to describe how ___feel in school, the most common choice is ‘bored.’

___traveled from coast to coast to visit 30 public high schools.

Across the different class types,___asked students to explain the purpose of what ___were doing.

As ___spent more time in schools, however,___noticed that powerful learning was happening n electives, clubs and extracurriculars.

Reading Comprehension : Fill-ins

Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentences taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.

Before the___bell, we treat ___as passive ___of knowledge whose interests and ___matter little. After the final bell — in newspaper, debate, theater,___and more — we treat ___as people who ___by doing, people who can ___as well as___, and people whose passions and are worth cultivating.

WORD LIST: learn, learn, identities, final, students, students, athletics, ideas ,teach, recipients,

 

Discussion Questions for Comprehension /Writing

Directions: Place students in groups and have them discuss the following questions/statements. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the topics mentioned.

  1. Describe your high school experience. Did you find the experience satisfying? Fun? Boring?
  2. With your group members describe your idea of a good  high school curriculum.
  3. The article states,“Schools need to become much more deeply attached to the world beyond their walls…Some use project-based learning to engage students in their local communities; some collaborate with museums, employers and others who can give students experiences in professional domains; still others prioritize hiring teachers who have had experience working in (and not just teaching about) their fields…”Do you agree/disagree with this statement?Why or why not?Provide examples of how project-based learning would work.

 

3-2-1-Writing

Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about the topic from the reading,two things they did not understand in the reading, and one thing they would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.

ANSWER KEY