“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
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.”
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.
II. While Reading Activities
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.
- When I was young I picked up how to gossip.
- Ten is such a vulnerable age.
- Our homeroom teacher, Ms. Deehr, was a severe teacher.
- She quoted from Proverbs.
- I whispered relentlessly and often without cruelty.
- We speculated about someone’s trip to another country.
- Trading information felt like an opportunity to accrue capital in a world in which we had none.
- For an adolescent, gossip was about currying favor.
- New York is a city of complex rules and norms.
- The internet complicates fun by allowing Trash talk.
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 whispered relentlessly.
- We was trying to understand things about ourselves.
- My friends and I talked about a classmate’s parents’ divorce.
- Trading information felt like a opportunity.
- For an adolescent, gossip was about currying favor.
- My friend and I moved to New York around the same time.
- That doesn’t mean gossip is ever moral or fair.
- Social media platforms reward our meanest, least empathetic selves.
- 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.
- Do you gossip with your friends? Why?
- What do you gossip about?
- What reason does the author give for her gossiping in school?
- 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?
- How does the author distinguish between ‘gossip’ and ‘spilling secrets’? Do you agree with her? Why?
- In your opinion is gossip the same as ‘trash talk’? Why or why not?
- After reading this article, is gossip a healthy habit among people? Why or why not?
- 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.