Shocking Bad Habits!

“Every January for the past decade, Jessica Irish of Saline, Mich., has made the same New Year’s Resolution: ‘to cut out late night snacking and lose 30 pounds’ Like millions of Americans, Ms. Irish, 31, usually makes it about two weeks. But this year is different. I’ve already lost 18 pounds and maintained my diet more consistently than ever….she uses the Pavlok to give herself a lightning-quick electric shock.” J. Jolly, The New York Times

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Image: The Daily Mail

Image: The Daily Mail

Excerpt: A Shocking Way (Really) to Break Bad Habits, J. Jolly, The New York Times

“Ms. Irish credits a new wearable device called Pavlok for doing what years of diets, weight-loss programs, expensive gyms and her own willpower could not…Every time I took a bite, I zapped myself, she said. I did it five times on the first night, two times on the second night, and by the third day I didn’t have any cravings anymore.

As the name suggests, the $199 Pavlok, worn on the wrist, uses the classic theory of Pavlovian conditioning to create a negative association with a specific action.

Next time you smoke, bite your nails or eat junk food, one tap of the device or a smartphone app will deliver a shock. The zap lasts only a fraction of a second, though the severity of the shock is up to you. It can be set between 50 volts, which feels like a strong vibration, and 450 volts, which feels like getting stung by a bee with a stinger the size of an ice pick.

You tube Pavlok Bracelet

You tube Pavlok Bracelet

By comparison, a police Taser typically releases about 50,000 volts…Set on low, it feels like a strong tickle. Set on high, it hurts. A lot… Bud Hennekes, 24, a blogger in St. Louis, said he had used Pavlok to kick a nearly two-pack-a-day cigarette habit…When I used Pavlok, the cravings completely went away. I don’t know if it’s science or a placebo effect or what, and I don’t really care because it worked.”


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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 learning new vocabulary. 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

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. For the past decade people have been trying to break bad habits.
  2. Pavlok   is a new wearable device.
  3. Pavlok gives out a lightning-quick electric shock.
  4. Some gadgets dabble in behavioral change.
  5. I wore it for a week, zapping myself every time I ate dessert.
  6. My goal was to curb my craving for sweets.
  7. Some people see this as an awful torture device.
  8. It’s not designed to be painful.
  9. Researchers have questioned the ethical nature of shock intervention.
  10. The practice of aversion therapy has been around for 80 years.

Reading Comprehension


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.

Dr. Marc Potenza, a ___of ___at Yale, says___ have questioned the___ nature of shock intervention when more___options like ___behavioral therapies, pharmaceutical ___and 12-step programs are available.

Word List: psychiatry, professor, cognitive, researchers, ethical, comfortable, interventions,

Grammar: Identifying Articles

Directions: Have students choose the correct articles to fill in the blanks.

English Articles:  A, An, The

As___name suggests,___$199 Pavlok, worn on___wrist, uses ___classic theory of Pavlovian conditioning to create ___negative association with___ specific action. Next time you smoke, bite your nails or eat junk food, one tap of ___device or___smartphone app will deliver___shock. ___ zap lasts only___fraction of___ second, though___severity of ___shock is up to you.

III. Post Reading Activities

WH-How Questions

Directions: Have students use the  WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.

Who or What is the article about?

Where does the action/event take place?

When does the action/event take place?

Why did the action/event occur?

How did the action/event occur?

Discussion/Writing Activities

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

1. “Despite the potential for pain and the lack of science backing a long-term effect, user feedback on Facebook groups and message boards has been enthusiastic about the device, especially as a last resort for problems like overeating and binge drinking.”

2. “When one of my patients told me he was using it last year to help him get out of bed in the morning, I was skeptical at first…I mean, the notion of being shocked — you can have a little reservation. But when you understand how to use it properly and people are more engaged in their own treatment, they tend to follow through with it more.”

3. Do you think you would try using the Pavlok to break a bad habit? Explain why or why not.

4. Search the web to find additional information about the Pavlok and share the new information with the class.


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.


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