Category Archives: People

The Value of Sibling Rivalry

“My 4- and 8-year-old are closer now than they were before the pandemic – I hear the sounds of giggling… But the more time my girls spend together, the more they fight, too. You can’t avoid fighting… Just because sibling rivalry is to be expected does not mean there aren’t ways to mitigate it.” J. Grose, The New York Times, January 2021

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Credit- JooHee Yoon, The New York Times

 

EXCERPT: The Psychology Behind Sibling Rivalry, By Jessica Grose, The New York Times, January 2021

“The most common battlegrounds for my kids are perceived injustices and jockeying for position. The most absurd instance of the latter was when we were waiting to get flu shots this past fall. The girls got into a brawl over who received the first shot. My older daughter “won” that argument, but it was only as she was walking toward the pharmacist’s door that she realized a shot was not actually a prize.

On days when we are trapped in the house together and their screaming matches reach operatic levels, their dad and I worry we did something horribly wrong as parents to encourage this volume of strife. But according to Jeanine Vivona, a professor of psychology at the College of New Jersey who has studied sibling rivalry, ‘competition with siblings is just a fact of life. And we, as people with siblings and people with children, can just try to manage it as best we can.’

Observational studies have shown that sibling conflict may happen up to eight times an hour. Other research finds that pairs of sisters tend to be the closest, and that sibling dyads that include a brother have the most conflict.

‘Conflict does decrease into adolescence; it sort of levels off,’ said Mark Ethan Feinberg, a research professor of health and human development at Pennsylvania State University. ‘Early and middle childhood are particularly difficult times for sibling aggression.’

As a study that Feinberg co-authored notes,  the book of Genesis, which includes the ‘founding stories of the Western psyche,’ is dripping with tales of murderous and covetous siblings, like Cain and Abel and Jacob and Esau…dastardly deeds, conflict over parental love is so profound that hundreds of years ago, when child mortality was much higher, children under 5 with close-in-age siblings were more likely to die… While most siblings aren’t fighting for actual scraps, psychologically, sibling rivalry serves a developmental purpose: It helps children figure out what is unique and special about themselves, otherwise known as ‘differentiation.’   Read the entire article for  five suggestions from the experts to handle squabbling sibs.”

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 60 minutes.


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: Examine the titles of the post and of the actual article.  Examine any photos, then create a list of  words and  ideas  that you  and your group members think might be related to this article. 

II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

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

  1. The most absurd instances are ones for getting attention.
  2. We did something horribly wrong as parents to encourage this volume of strife.
  3. The girls got into a brawl over who received the first shot.
  4. Some dastardly deeds, in the Bible are centered around sibling rivalry.
  5. This knowledge certainly puts my kids’ fights over who got more ice cream into perspective.
  6. Most siblings don’t continue to fight into adult age.
  7. Psychologically, sibling rivalry serves a developmental purpose.
  8. Just because sibling rivalry is to be expected does not mean there aren’t ways to mitigate it.
  9. Praise them in public and punish them in private.
  10. Children have a tendency to get twitchy when they’re cooped up.

Word Map by Against the Odds

 

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.

Try too/to find moments where/wear everyone can came/come together. You’re/Yourkids/kids’ temperaments and personalities may be/bee similar, oar/or they may not/knot. They may both love/loves dance, ore/or one loves/love dance an/and the other just wants/wantto/two play chess. One might bee/be rigid, and the other is an/a free spirit.

Reading: Identify TheSpeakers

Directions: Read the following quotes from the speakers in the article. Then identify the speakers.

  1. “Competition with siblings is just a fact of life. And we, as people with siblings and people with children, can just try to manage it as best we can.”
  2. “Conflict does decrease into adolescence; it sort of levels off,”
  3. “Early and middle childhood are particularly difficult times for sibling aggression
  4. “Hundreds of years ago, when child mortality was much higher, children under 5 with close-in-age siblings were more likely to die.”
  5. “Figure out what sets them off. Pay attention to what tends to happen before conflict breaks out,”

III Post Reading

Discussion Questions for Comprehension /Writing

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

  1. Do you have sisters or brothers?
  2. Do you get along with them? Why or why not?
  3. According to the article what are some of the themes in the Bible involving siblings?
  4. What is the  famous story of  sibling rivalry from the Bible? Do you know the story? 
  5. Why were children under 5 with close-in-age siblings more likely to die hundreds of years ago?
  6. Explain the developmental purpose that sibling rivalry serves.
  7. What are the five suggestions from experts to handle sibling rivalry?
  8. When should parents criticize their children?  According to Hunter, what is the advantage of this?

 

3-2-1-Writing

Directions:  List three new ideas that you’ve learned about the topic from the reading, two things that you did not understand in the reading, and one thing you  would like to know that the article did not mention.  Share your responses with your class.

ANSWER KEY

Researchers Are Finding New Ways to Enter Our Dreams

“Scientists are figuring out how to communicate with people while they’re dreaming. What will be discovered on the other side?” V.  Greenwood, The Boston Globe, July 20, 2021

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Illustration- Gregori Saavedra. The Guardian

Excerpt: A passageway is opening into the world of dreams, By Veronique Greenwood, The Boston Globe, July 20, 2021

“Lucid dreamers can control their surroundings and the narrative of their dreams. Near the corner of the small, dark room, there is a narrow folding bed. Every now and then, a speaker on a nearby table emits an eerie violin riff. A line of red lights near the ceiling flashes, then flashes again, bathing the room in a lurid glow. In the bed someone who is fitted with a series of scalp and face electrodes is sleeping.

Sleep Lab -Boston Medical Center

This surreal tableau is part of scientists’ effort to breach the wall between the waking world and wherever it is we are when we’re dreaming. The researchers who control the speaker and flashing lights in the lab of Ken Paller, a neuroscientist at Northwestern University, in Evanston, Ill., have been asking questions of people who are dreaming and hoping to get answers.

The Netherlands Institut

The dreamers have talked back in a handful of cases. Or rather, signaled back, swiveling their closed eyes back and forth or making little muscle twitches to answer arithmetic problems asked by an experimenter…It’s not quite on the level of “Inception,” the 2010 movie in which Leonardo DiCaprio enters people’s dreams to steal their secrets, but it could be a way to learn more about the peculiar places we inhabit, built by our brains without our knowledge, when we lie down to sleep.

Poster from film: Inception

Researchers have found that lucid dreamers can move their closed eyes voluntarily while asleep and can signal using a prearranged rapid movement — left-right-left-right — that they’ve become lucid. The sleeper may then perform another prearranged task, like singing a song or practicing a workout in the dream and then signal again when they’ve completed it. This has allowed researchers to ask big questions. Do activities take the same amount of time in a dream as in waking life? (Yes, it appears.)”

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 60 minutes.


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: Examine the titles of the post and of the actual article.  Examine any photos, then create a list of  words and  ideas  that you  and your group members think might be related to this article. 

II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

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

  1. Scientists are figuring out how to communicate with people while they’re dreaming.
  2. Lucid dreamers can control their surroundings and the narrative of their dreams.
  3. Every now and then, a speaker on a nearby table emits an eerie violin riff.
  4. In the bed someone is fitted with a series of scalp and face electrodes.
  5. This surreal tableau is an effort to breach the wall between the waking world and when we’re dreaming.
  6. Some dreamers  can signal back by making little muscle twitches.
  7. It’s not quite on the level of “Inception,” the 2010 movie.
  8. Some believe that we enter an alternate life while sleeping.
  9. A phenomenon called lucid dreaming offers the possibility of communication in real time.
  10. Some experimenters spoke these questions, some used Morse code.

 

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.  Identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.

I

  1. Scientists are figuring out how to communicate with people while they’re dreaming.
  2. What will be discover on the other side?
  3. The researchers control the speaker and flashing lights in the lab.

II

  1. The dreamers have talked back on a handful of cases.
  2. Two-way communication with dreamers is possible.
  3. But there is a delay between a dream and when scientists can try to learn about it.

III

  1. Lucid dreaming offers an possibility of communication in real time.
  2. It is possible for some people to train themselves to dream this way.
  3. Researchers have found that lucid dreamers can move their closed eyes voluntarily while asleep.

 

Reading Comprehension

Identify The  Speakers

Directions: Read the following quotes and descriptions  from (and of)  the speakers in the article. Then identify the speakers.

  1. This scientist is part of the group of researchers who control the people  who are dreaming.
  2. “One of the main challenges of doing dream research is that you only have access to the dream experience, the dream report, after the fact.”
  3. This sleep researcher helped bring the subject of Lucid dreamers to the mainstream.
  4. He and his colleagues have found that when lucid dreamers trace a line with their eyes they move with a smoothness they don’t have when awake and imagining the same experience.
  5. “It is not clear why some people perceived the questions and others did not…But staying lucid is like balancing on a knife’s edge…On the one hand, you may get so excited you’ve achieved lucidity that you wake up. On the other, you can fall back into the deep, languid waters of regular dreaming, losing the ability to participate in experiments.
  6. However, the method will always be really difficult and impractical, in the sense that you have to test dozens of participants before getting one instance of really convincing, successful communication.”

 

Discussion Questions for Comprehension /Writing

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

  1. Do you dream often? Can you remember your dreams when you wake up?
  2. According to the article have dreamers ever spoken (or signaled) back to the scientists?  How?
  3. What are some of the positive advantages of learning about our dreams?
  4. What type of  experiments did the researchers ask the sleepers to perform?
  5. At the present,  what’s the best way to get information about  what we dream about?
  6. Explain what Lucid Dreaming means.
  7. What are some of the things that  lucid dreamers can do?
  8. What are some questions researchers ask about lucid dreamers?
  9. In the 2010 movie ‘Inception,’ Leonardo DiCaprio enters people’s dreams to steal their secrets. In your opinion, do you believe this could actually happen with further dream research?
  10. Why are researchers cautious about future research in dreaming?
  11. In your opinion, are these experiments useful or harmful? Please provide reasons for your answers.

 

3-2-1-Writing

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

 

Extra Activities

Have each group research different institutions (in the U.S. and other countries)that have dream experimentation labs and write a report about the results. Each group will share their results with the class.

Have each member write about a dream they had and try to interpret the dream.

ANSWER KEY

Category: People, Psychology, Technology | Tags:

The Art of Being Happy Takes Work!

“Mr. Sherman, 70, is an Orthodox Jew, a professional clown and sometime playwright and director…’I picked Wall Street and Nassau for a reason,’ he said. I felt, that’s the center of power, they need the humanity the most. This one fellow stopped me and said: ‘I watch you. I have all the money I want in the world. But I’m not happy. I see you perform, and you’re happy. How do I become happy?’  It’s a living.” J. Leland, The New York Times, July 8, 2021

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Stanley Allan Sherman in his studio, which has also been his home since the 1970s. Credit- James Estrin:The New York Times

 

Excerpt: ‘How Do I Become Happy?’ Advice From a Professional Fool, By John Leland, The New York Times, July 8, 2021,

“In a city that has everything, he is one of the few makers of custom leather masks of the sort used in commedia dell’arte, a form of theater that uses stock characters denoted by their masks. He also makes them for the occasional pro wrestler or rapper.

Mr. Sherman during his time as a mime and juggler. Credit-Jim R Moore:Vaudevisuals

Everyone has a Sept. 11 story. The pages of Stanley Allan Sherman’s, a one-man show called ‘September,’ sat propped on a music stand in his apartment the other day, amid a room full of leather masks. Something about the text was vexing him… He started writing the Sept. 11 monologue several years ago, with interest from Theater for the New City in the East Village. Then the pandemic happened, leaving the show orphaned — a meditation on resilience during one calamity, sidelined by another. For Mr. Sherman, it was just one more occasion for improv.

Wrestling masks made by Mr. Sherman. Credit- maskarts.com

Like many artists of his generation, he arrived in New York without a plan, and found a sweet spot in a post-’60s art world that was just taking shape. It was roughly 1973, after he’d spent a year on a kibbutz in Israel and a couple more in Paris, and his intention was  to stay a couple of nights on his brother’s couch, in a fifth-floor walk-up on the edge of the Manhattan neighborhood now known as Chelsea…Instead of leaving town as planned, Mr. Sherman grabbed a set of antique toilet plungers and headed downtown to Wall Street, to pass the hat as a sidewalk juggler and mime.

Mr. Sherman’s mask for The Joffrey Ballet School Production of The Nutcracker Ballet in 2012. Credit- masks.com

It was a great way to learn about human psychology, he said. It also made him the apartment’s sole breadwinner… Mr. Sherman graduated from the sidewalk gig to performing in the small, adventurous theaters that were beginning to open downtown. ‘If you stay too long in the street you get mean,” he said. ‘I was getting mean.’

For Mr. Sherman, it has been an odd sort of career. His best-known performing role was as a guest on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” where he appeared more than 40 times in the 1990s, usually in bits calling for a Hasidic Jew, with or without juggling.”

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 60 minutes.


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: Examine the titles of the post and of the actual article.  Examine any photos, then create a list of  words and  ideas  that you  and your group members think might be related to this article. 

II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

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

  1. Stanley Allan Sherman is  one of the niche artisans of New York theater.
  2. Sherman is also one of the few makers of custom leather masks of the sort used in commedia dell’arte.
  3. When the pandemic happened his  show closed.
  4. Sherman showed resilience during  the calamity.
  5. For Mr. Sherman, it was just one more occasion for improv.
  6. In 1973 he spent a year on a kibbutz in Israel.
  7. He  had studied mime and the use of masks in the fabled Parisian school of Jacques Lecoq.
  8. Mr. Sherman’s brother was trying to peddle a documentary.
  9. He was the apartment’s sole breadwinner.
  10. Mr. Sherman graduated from the sidewalk gig to performing in the theaters.

 

Word Map by Against the Odds

 

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.  Identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.

I

  1. Mr. Sherman graduated from the sidewalk to theaters.
  2. If you stay too long in the street you get mean.
  3. The only person I knew what made masks was in Italy.

II

  1. Mr. Sherman had found an niche in the community.
  2. He called puppeteers he knew for advice.
  3. Mr. Sherman also created masks for dancers.

III

  1. But his best-known mask appeared on the professional wrestler Mick Foley.   
  2. It can take Mr. Sherman a few day or as long as a year to make a mask.
  3. He is now hoping to revive ‘September,’  his one-man show.

 

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.

There was an ___couple with a___ pot of ___soup that fed ___for hours. All these ___things happened. Then seeing the line of ___trucks on the West Side Highway was just___. People in their 20s have no___of this. They hear about___, but they don’t know how the___ in the city was so amazing. It was a___ time.”

WORDLIST : magical, memory, disturbing, refrigerator, beautiful, people, Sept. 11, energy, old, giant, chicken, 

Graphic Organizers: Finding The Main Idea

Directions: Have students use this graphic organizer from Enchanted Learning  to assist them with  discussing  or writing about  the main points from the article.

Discussion Questions for Comprehension /Writing

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

  1. During the pandemic, many people have become sad. We read about how some try to cheer themselves and others up. Name some ways that you cheer yourself or your friends up.
  2. Why do you think that Mr. Sherman was getting ‘mean’ in the New York City streets?
  3. Which wrestler wore Mr. Sherman’s best known mask?
  4. Mr. Sherman states, The reason late night comedy talk shows are so popular and so many people get their news from them, is because they’re speaking truth,” he said.
  5. “If it’s a lie, it’s not funny. Lies aren’t funny. Truth is funny.”
  6. Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Provide reasons for your answers.
  7. If you could ask Mr. Sherman two questions, what would they be?
  8. Discuss three new ideas  that you’ve learned about the topic from the reading,  two things that you did not understand in the reading, and one thing you would like to know that the article did not mention.

ANSWER KEY

Category: Arts, People | Tags:

Good Gossip vs. Bad Gossip

“Two Proverbs: The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; A whisperer separates close friends. K. Radtke, The New York Times, June 29, 2021

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

image Credit- Gwendle Le Bec, NYT

Excerpt: Letter of Recommendation: Gossip, By Kristen Radtke, The New York Times, June 29, 2021

“In middle school I learned how to solve for the hypotenuse and identify properties of an atom, but the most enduring skill I picked up was how to gossip. Eighth grade in particular was consumed by chatter and rumors...As a class of 26, we had perhaps more access to one another than is advisable at such a vulnerable age.

Our homeroom teacher, Ms. Deehr, a severe Catholic-school teacher who resembled a sitcom stereotype, had no tolerance for what she called ‘talking behind each other’s backs.’

She quoted from Proverbs: ‘A whisperer separates close friends.’ I burned with shame over my recess gossip, fearing that eternal flames awaited me if I didn’t stop.

Yet, I whispered relentlessly and often without cruelty. My friends and I talked about a classmate’s parents’ divorce when we were trying to understand our own parents’ fighting… We were trying to understand things about ourselves, and the tiny world we inhabited, the only way we knew how: by observing one another and making sense of those observations together. Ms. Deehr failed to mention a verse that came later, also from Proverbs: ‘The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels.’

The anthropologist Robin Dunbar has proposed that humans developed spoken language not to more effectively hunt or build or conquer but to gossip…If humans did indeed develop language in order to gossip, it’s because gossiping creates interpersonal bonds and offers context about the lives we lead.” 

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 60 minutes.


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: Examine the title of the post and of the actual article. Next examine  any photos. Write a paragraph describing what you think this article will discuss. A pre-reading organizer may be used.

Pre-reading chart by J. Swann

 

II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

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

  1. When I was young I picked up how to gossip.
  2. Ten is such a vulnerable age.
  3. Our homeroom teacher, Ms. Deehr, was a severe teacher.
  4. She quoted from Proverbs.
  5. I whispered relentlessly and often without cruelty.
  6. We speculated about someone’s trip to another country.
  7. Trading information felt like an opportunity to accrue capital in a world in which we had none.
  8. For an adolescent, gossip was about currying favor.
  9. New York is a city of complex rules and norms.
  10. The internet complicates fun by allowing Trash talk.

Word Map by Against the Odds

 

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.  Identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.

I

  1. I whispered relentlessly.
  2. We was trying to understand things about ourselves.
  3. My friends and I talked about a classmate’s parents’ divorce.

II

  1. Trading information felt like a opportunity.
  2. For an adolescent, gossip was about currying favor.
  3. My friend and I moved to New York around the same time.

III

  1. That doesn’t mean gossip is ever moral or fair.
  2. Social media platforms reward our meanest, least empathetic selves.
  3. The internet also obliterate the privacy of a personal network.

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.

That doesn’t mean___ is ever ___or___ or even true; it’s just that it can also be an ___amount of___…Despite her many attempts, my___ never completely kicked her ___habit, and I remain___ that I can ___her off the ____for good.

WORD LIST:  hopeful, gossip,  coax,  fun,  enormous, friend, gossip,  fair, moral,  wagon

III. Post Reading Activities

Discussion Questions for Comprehension /Writing

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

  1. Do you gossip with your friends? Why?
  2. What do you gossip about?
  3. What reason does the author give for her gossiping in school?
  4. In the article the anthropologist Robin Dunbar has proposed that “humans developed spoken language not to more effectively hunt or build or conquer but to gossip.”  Do you agree or disagree with this idea?
  5. How does the author distinguish between ‘gossip’ and ‘spilling secrets’?  Do you agree with her?  Why?
  6. In your opinion is gossip the same as ‘trash talk’? Why or why not?
  7. After reading this article, is gossip a healthy habit among people? Why or why not?
  8. Discuss three new ideas  that you’ve learned about the topic from the reading,  two things that you did not understand in the reading, and one thing you would like to know that the article did not mention.

ANSWER KEY

Category: Culture, Language, People | Tags:

Beware of Deepfakes: Digital Impersonations That Can Deceive Us

“To those fearful of a future in which videos of real people are indistinguishable from computer-generated forgeries, two recent developments that attracted an audience of millions might have seemed alarming.” D. Victor, The New York Times, March 10, 2021

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Lesson Plan

A video of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who died last year, was created using MyHeritage’s Deep Nostalgia tool.

Excerpt: Your Loved Ones, and Eerie Tom Cruise Videos, Reanimate Unease With Deepfakes,By Daniel Victor, The New York Times, March 10, 2021

“First, a visual effects artist worked with a Tom Cruise impersonator to create startlingly accurate videos imitating the actor. The videos, created with the help of machine-learning techniques and known as deepfakes, gained millions of views on TikTok, Twitter and other social networks in late February.

A looping video of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was created using a photograph and a tool on the MyHeritage genealogy site.

Then, days later, MyHeritage, a genealogy website best known for its role in tracking down the identity of the Golden State Killer, offered a tool to digitally animate old photographs of loved ones, creating a short, looping video in which people can be seen moving their heads and even smiling. More than 26 million images had been animated using the tool, called Deep Nostalgia, as of Monday, the company said.

The videos renewed attention to the potential of synthetic media, which could lead to significant improvements in the advertising and entertainment industries. But the technology could also be used — and has been — to raise doubts about legitimate videos and to insert people, including children, into pornographic images.

The creators of the viral Tom Cruise TikToks said the expertise required to use the technology makes abusing it much harder, and the company behind the photo-animating tool said it put in place safeguards to prevent misuse…‘Although Deep Nostalgia itself is innocuous, it’s part of this set of tools that are potentially very threatening,’ said Sam Gregory, the program director of Witness, a nonprofit organization focused on the ethical use of video, and an expert on artificial intelligence…The Deep Nostalgia tool was created for MyHeritage by D-ID, an artificial intelligence company based in Tel Aviv. Gil Perry, the chief executive of D-ID, said that the company works only with partners it can trust not to abuse the technology, and that it had a four-year relationship with MyHeritage.

Videos created using the tool have watermarks to indicate that they aren’t real, and the videos do not include audio, a decision that Mr. Perry said makes it harder to use them for unsavory purposes…The effects could also be used in Hollywood to better age or de-age actors, or to improve the dubbing of films and TV shows in different languages, closely aligning lip movements with the language onscreen… Of course, people who have died can’t consent to being featured in videos. And that matters if dead people — especially celebrities — can be digitally resurrected, as the artist Bob Ross was to sell Mountain Dew…Henry Ajder, a deepfakes researcher, imagined a future in which our own voices could be used with assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, allowing us to stay connected with loved ones after our deaths.”

STAY SAFE — KEEP LOVED ONES SAFE

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

LESSON PLAN

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 60 minutes.


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 KWL Chart

The K-W-L chart is used to activate students’ background knowledge of a topic in order to enhance their comprehension skills.

Directions: Have students use the KWL chart to list the information they already know about Digital Impersonations.Later in the Post- Reading segment of the lesson, students can fill in what they’ve learned about the topic.

Advanced K-W-L chart.Intervention for Reading — Michigan State University

 

II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

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

  1. Videos of real people are indistinguishable from computer-generated forgeries.
  2. A visual effects artist worked with a Tom Cruise impersonator to make the forgeries.
  3. MyHeritage is  a genealogy website.
  4. The website offered a tool to digitally animate old photographs of loved ones.
  5. The tool is called Deep Nostalgia.
  6. The videos renewed attention to the potential of synthetic media.
  7. Although Deep Nostalgia itself is innocuous, it’s part of this set of tools that are potentially very threatening.
  8. Many people are focused on the ethical use of the videos.
  9. The digital imitation of Mr. Cruise was no easy feat.
  10. Creating these videos required extensive expertise and time.

 

 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.  Identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.

I

  1. More than 26 million image had been animated.
  2. The videos renewed attention to the potential of synthetic media.
  3. Experts say the two examples are not overly alarming.

II

  1. The digital imitation of Mr. Cruise was no easy feat.
  2. Most of what you sea in the videos is the body and voice of Miles Fisher.
  3. Videos like this would require extensive manual work.

III

  1. A nongovernmental organization created a videos of a Mexican journalist.
  2. As the technology advances, it will be used more broadly.
  3. People are always trying to think about the perfect deepfake.

 

While Reading: Identify The  Speakers

Directions: Read the following quotes from the speakers in the article. Then identify the speakers.

  1. “Although Deep Nostalgia itself is innocuous, it’s part of this set of tools that are potentially very threatening.”
  2. “The digital imitation of Mr. Cruise was no easy feat. they required extensive expertise and time…It’s like a small Hollywood studio with the two of us. It’s not something you can do at a home computer, pressing a button.”
  3. “The technology could also have a destabilizing effect on global affairs, as politicians claim that videos, including genuine ones, are fake in order to gain an advantage that they have called “the liar’s dividend.”
  4. “Imagine a future in which our own voices could be used with assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, allowing us to stay connected with loved ones after our deaths…In what cases do we need consent of the deceased to resurrect them?”

Discussion Questions for Comprehension /Writing

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

  1. What is the purpose of the tool Deep Nostalgia? What safeguards has D-ID, the company behind the tool, created to prevent its misuse?
  2. What are some benefits to using ‘synthetic media’? What are some dangers in using this type of media?
  3. Name two ways that people can tell which videos were created using the The Deep Nostalgia tool.
  4. Who was Javier Arturo Valdez Cárdenas? Joaquin Oliver? Why are they important to this article?
  5. What are some other ways this technology be used?
  6. (e.g., In the movies/TV shows–in Politics)
  7. How can this technology  have a destabilizing effect on global affairs?
  8. Have you ever seen a deepfake video? If so, where did you see it? Did you think it was real or could you tell it was fake?  If Yes, explain how you knew.
  9. The article concludes with a discussion of consent from people both living and dead. In your opinion, in the future, will we need the consent of dead people to reanimate them? Explain your answer.
  10. Write down three new ideas that you’ve learned about the topic from the reading,  two things  that  you did not understand in the reading, and one thing you  would like to know that the article did not mention. Review all  responses as a class.

Extra Activity:

Main Idea / Debate

Directions: Divide students into two teams for this debate. Both teams can use information from the article and additional articles from various newspapers including the New York Times to support their arguments.

Team A will list reasons that support arguments for Deepfake technology.

Team B will list reasons that support arguments against Deepfake technology.

Each team will have time to state their points of view,  and the teacher decides which team made their points.  

For organization, have students use Pros and Cons Scale organizer  from Freeology

Pros and Cons Scale

Additional Articles on Deepfakes:

Facebook Says It Will Ban ‘Deepfakes’ (New York Times)

Internet Companies Prepare to Fight the ‘Deepfake’ Future‘ (New York Times)

Deepfakes Are Going To Wreak Havoc On Society. We Are Not Prepared.” (Forbes)

Deepfakes and the New AI-Generated Fake Media Creation-Detection Arms Race” (Scientific American)

What Are Deepfakes — and How Can You Spot Them?” (The Guardian)

ANSWER KEY