“Adults often tangle themselves in knots when discussing physical appearance with children. We try to iron out differences by insisting they don’t matter, attribute a greater moral fortitude to the plain or leap in defensively when someone is described as not conventionally attractive, or — worse — ugly or fat…The Australian author Robert Hoge, who describes himself as the ugliest person you’ve never met, thinks we get it all wrong when we tell children looks don’t matter: They know perfectly well they do.” J. Baird, The New York Times
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
Excerpt: Being Dishonest About Ugliness By Julia Baird, The New York Times
“A former speechwriter, he has written a book for children, based on his own life story, called Ugly. He finds children are relieved when a grown person talks to them candidly about living with flawed features in a world of facial inequality. It’s important they know that it’s just one thing in life, one characteristic among others. That appearance, in other words, means something but it doesn’t mean everything.
Mr. Hoge was born with a tumor on his face, and deformed legs. He describes his face by asking us to imagine being in art class after the teacher has presented you with a lump of wet clay and asked you to sculpt a baby’s face. You labor and sweat, tearing off lumps, smoothing lines, shaping a nose, eyes, chin. Beautiful. Then a kid tears across the room and smashes a clay lump into the middle of the face, pushing the eyes apart. That’s what he looked like when he was born; his parents burst into tears.
Mr. Hoge says that his mother left him in the hospital, wishing he would die. It was not until he was almost five weeks old, after a family meeting where his siblings voted for him to be brought home, that his parents returned for him.
He grew up to be a political adviser to the most senior politician in his state: the Queensland premier. So how is a child to grapple with the savage social hierarchy of “lookism” that usually begins in the playground, if adults are so clumsy about it?
It’s important to talk to children, he says, before they get sucked into the tight vortex of peer pressure, where every single difference is a case for disaster. Don’t tell kids they’re all beautiful; tell them it’s O.K. to look different.”
“Our Hearts go out to the families of the innocent victims and to the people of Paris”
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: Analyzing headings and photos
Directions: Have students examine the titles of the post and of the actual article. After they examine the photos, ask students to create a list of words and ideas that they think might be related to this article.
II. While Reading Tasks
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.
- Robert Hoge is a a former speechwriter.
- Children are relieved when a grown person talks to them candidly.
- Living with flawed features is difficult.
- Appearance, in other words, means something but it doesn’t mean everything.
- Mr. Hoge was born with a tumor on his face.
- Imagine that the teacher has presented you with a lump of wet clay.
- His siblings voted for him to be brought home.
- So how is a child to grapple with deformity?
- Society has the savage social hierarchy of “lookism”.
- Hans Christian Andersen wrestled with rejection from his peers.
Directions: Students choose the correct word to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented in the sentences.
“Mr. Hoge tells us we don’t need to apply a sepia/scepter filter. “I’m happy to conclude/concede the point, he says, that some people look more aesthetically pleasing/placing than others. Let’s rant/grant that so we can move/mode to the important point — so what?
Perhaps we also need/nice to spend more time pointing to some of the magnifier/magnificent creatures who have walked the earth/early without the need for pageant/page ribbons or Instagram likes, but who have contribute/contributed in enduring /endearing ways.”
Using Adjectives to describe pictures
Directions: Have students choose a picture from the article, or bring in one of their own and write a descriptive paragraph using adjectives.
Directions: Place students in groups and have them answer the following questions. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following discussion topics.
1. The following statements were taken from the article. Rephrase each statement in your own words, then discuss the meaning with the members of your group.
“The advantage of beauty has been long established in social science…We talk about body shape, size and weight, but rarely about distorted features. And we talk about plainness, but not faces that would make a surgeon’s fingers itch.”
“Even in children’s literature, we imply ugliness is either transient or deserved. Hans Christian Andersen wrestled with rejection from his peers as a child, most probably because of his large nose, effeminate ways, beautiful singing voice and love of theater; The Ugly Duckling is widely assumed to be the story of his own life.”
“Some kids are good spellers; some have bad haircuts; some are fast runners; some kids are short; some are awesome at netball. But the kids who are short aren’t only short. And the kids who are great at netball aren’t only just great at netball. No one is only just one thing. It’s the same with appearance.”
2. In your opinion, do people place too much emphasis on appearance? Provide examples to support your answer.
3. What makes a person beautiful? What makes a person ugly?
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.