“After hours of searching, I pulled onto a dirt track here in the rolling hills of Cambridgeshire and spotted a small dot whirring across the blue sky, gently swaying in the breeze as it steadily flew about 200 feet above the ground. Jackpot: It was an Amazon drone. Amazon, the giant e-commerce company, began secretly testing unmanned aircraft this summer at an undisclosed location in Britain. I set out to find the top secret site, wanting to see how we all may one day receive online deliveries.” M. Scott, The New York Times
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
Excerpt: A Peek at the Secret English Farm Where Amazon Tests Its Drones By Mark Scott, The New York Times
“In retrospect, signs of Amazon’s secret tests were hidden in plain sight. There was the warning to pilots that unmanned aircraft would be flying in the area, about an hour north of London, until early October; the uncharacteristically fast cellphone reception in such a remote area — a must when processing drone data; and the growing list of jobs and openings at Amazon’s research and development site in Cambridge related to Prime Air, the company’s ambitious plan to use drones for everyday deliveries.
In Britain, Amazon is working with local authorities to test several aspects of drone technology like piloting the machines beyond the line of sight of operators, a practice still outlawed in the United States. Regulators here first authorized the commercial use of drones in 2010 — years before the Federal Aviation Authority eased its restrictions on remotely piloted aircraft in June. Amazon settled on Britain after the United States initially denied it approval for such tests.
With competitors aplenty, it is not surprising that Amazon wants to hide efforts from prying eyes. In Fulbourn, the nearest village to the test site, where thatch-roofed houses and a centuries-old church stand guard over the quiet main street, few people even knew that the American technology giant had moved in down the road.
Some people in this rural area have had angry reactions. To Julia Napier, a co-founder of Friends of the Roman Road and Fleam Dyke, a local association that maintains public footpaths around the site, Amazon’s arrival is a potential threat to local wildlife and the wider countryside, something the company has denied.
A company employee called last week, Ms. Napier said, trying to persuade her that the local drone trials were safe and did not pose a risk to wildlife. She remains skeptical.
They are testing those drones here because they can’t do it in America, she said. Whatever the Americans don’t want, I don’t want it, either.”
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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.
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.
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.
- People wondered about the unmarked aircraft.
- A large model plane, floated across a field.
- In retrospect, signs of Amazon’s secret tests were hidden in plain sight.
- There was the warning to pilots about unmanned aircraft.
- The company’s plans were ambitious.
- In Britain, Amazon is working with local authorities.
- A company spokeswoman declined to comment.
- Amazon tried to persuade residents that the drone trials were safe.
- People remain skeptical.
- I was no closer to finding the elusive drone machines.
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.
- There was no warning to pilots that unmanned aircraft would be flying north of London,
- Amazon is as the only company to conduct drone trials.
- In New Zealand, Domino’s Pizza is testing drones to ferry fast food across the country.
- Google is offering book orders delivered by drone in Virginia.
- Amazon wants to hide efforts from prying eyes to save money.
- Some people in this rural area have had angry reactions.
- Children also fly the drones.
- They are testing those drones here because they can’t do it in America.
- Some think that in sparsely populated areas drones could fill an underserved niche of people with limited access to stores.
- But in many built-up urban areas, the arrival of drone delivery could quickly become a logistical nightmare.
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.
For places like Worsted Lodge — a sparsely/sparse populated area where farm/fame animals easily outnumber reside/residents — drones could fill/fit an underserved niche/nice of people with limited accessible/access to stores. But in many built-up urban areas, the arrival of drain/drone delivery could quickly become a logistical nightmare/nighttime — something the tests in the Cambridgeshire countryside would not soon solve.
III. Post Reading Activities
The article states, “Regulators here first authorized the commercial use of drones in 2010 — years before the Federal Aviation Authority eased its restrictions on remotely piloted aircraft in June. Amazon settled on Britain after the United States initially denied it approval for such tests.”
- What are the current U.S. air traffic laws concerning operating drones?
- Why do you think Amazon wants to keep its drone testing a secret?
- What has been the reaction of the people to the drones in their area?
- In your opinion, is using drones for deliveries a good idea? Explain why or why not.
- Can you think of any other uses for drones? Create a list of ideas then share them with the 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. Note: For the lower levels allow more time for this writing activity.