“Stephen W. Hawking, the Cambridge University physicist and best-selling author who roamed the cosmos from a wheelchair, pondering the nature of gravity and the origin of the universe and becoming an emblem of human determination and curiosity, died early Wednesday at his home in Cambridge, England. He was 76.” D. Overbye, The New York Times
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
“Not since Albert Einstein has a scientist so captured the public imagination and endeared himself to tens of millions of people around the world…Dr. Hawking did that largely through his book A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes, published in 1988…Scientifically, Dr. Hawking will be best remembered for a discovery so strange that it might be expressed in the form of a Zen koan: When is a black hole not black? When it explodes. What is equally amazing is that he had a career at all. As a graduate student in 1963, he learned he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neuromuscular wasting disease also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was given only a few years to live.
He went on to become his generation’s leader in exploring gravity and the properties of black holes, the bottomless gravitational pits so deep and dense that not even light can escape them. In a long and daunting calculation, Dr. Hawking discovered to his befuddlement that black holes — those mythological avatars of cosmic doom — were not really black at all. In fact, he found, they would eventually fizzle, leaking radiation and particles, and finally explode and disappear over the eons.
The discovery of Hawking radiation, as it is known, turned black holes upside down. It transformed them from destroyers to creators — or at least to recyclers — and wrenched the dream of a final theory in a strange, new direction…In 2002, Dr. Hawking said he wanted the formula for ‘Hawking radiation’ to be engraved on his tombstone.
In April 2007, a few months after his 65th birthday, he took part in a zero-gravity flight aboard a specially equipped Boeing 727, a padded aircraft that flies a roller-coaster trajectory to produce fleeting periods of weightlessness. It was a prelude to a hoped-for trip to space with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic company aboard SpaceShipTwo.
‘What a triumph his life has been,” said Martin Rees, a Cambridge University cosmologist, the astronomer royal of England and Dr. Hawking’s longtime colleague. ‘His name will live in the annals of science; millions have had their cosmic horizons widened by his best-selling books; and even more, around the world, have been inspired by a unique example of achievement against all the odds — a manifestation of amazing willpower and determination.’
Paraphrasing Einstein’s complaint about the randomness inherent in quantum mechanics, Dr. Hawking said, “God not only plays dice with the universe, but sometimes throws them where they can’t be seen.”’
“We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.” ~Stephen Hawking~
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
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 Stephen Hawking. Later in the Post- Reading segment of the lesson, students can fill in what they’ve learned about the topic.
II. While Reading Activities
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.
- Stephen Hawking endeared himself to millions of people around the world.
- Dr. Hawking developed a long and daunting calculation involving black holes.
- He found that they would eventually fizzle and disappear over the eons.
- The discovery of Hawking radiation turned black holes upside down.
- Hawking wanted to show that people need not be limited by physical handicaps.
- What a triumph his life has been!
- Martin Rees was Dr. Hawking’s longtime colleague.
- Stephen Hawking was an example of achievement against all the odds.
- Stephen was a mediocre student at St. Albans School in London.
- In school, Hawking rarely consulted a book or took notes.
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.
The oldest of ___children, Stephen was a ___student at St. Albans School in London, though his innate ___was recognized by some ___and teachers.
Later, at University College, Oxford, he found his___ in ___and ___so ___that he ___consulted a book or took notes. He got by with a ___hours of ___in three years, or one hour a day, he estimated.
WORD LIST: work, easy, mathematics studies, thousand, classmates, physics brilliance, four, mediocre, rarely,
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.
He moved/mowed to Cambridge upon his graduation for/from Oxford. Before he could begin/begun his research, however, he was stricken/stuck by what his research adviser, Dr. Sciama, came to call “that terrible thing.” The young Hawking had been experience/experiencing occasional weakness/week and falling spells for several years. Shortly after his 21st birthday, in 1963, doctors tell/told him that he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
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?
Directions: Have students fill in the last column of the KWL chart if they used one in the pre-reading segment of this lesson.
Discussion for Comprehension /Writing
Directions: Place students in groups and have each group list 3 questions they would like to ask Stephen Hawking. Have groups exchange questions. Each group tries to answer the questions listed. All responses are shared as a class.
1-Minute Free Writing Exercise
Directions: Allow students 1 minute to write down one new idea they’ve learned from the reading. Ask them to write down one thing they did not understand in the reading. Review the responses as a class.