“…a new acquaintance said to me shortly after I moved to Portland, Ore. ‘I think I saw you running by the river yesterday.”Did you jump up like Michael Jordan to touch a leaf?’ Indeed, I had.’I was probably stretching,’ I offered. ‘Yeah,’ he said doubtfully.’It really looked like you were high-fiving a tree.’ I was actually touching leaves and flowers for luck, which I’ve done since earliest childhood.” K. Russell, The New York Times
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
Excerpt:Letter of Recommendation: Superstitions, Karen Russell, The New York Times
“Superstitious people are often dismissed as irrational, stunted thinkers — mental children who never outgrow a scrambled understanding of causality. Even those studies that confirm ‘Improved performance’ for superstitious athletes can sound patronizing, hypothesizing that rituals like Serena Williams’s five bounces before her first serve work by conferring ‘the illusion of control.’
But those of us who carry charms and sidestep ladders will tell you that superstitions can have an undeniable power. Not because they change the future, but because they articulate a wish. Superstitions are a special syntax, the ellipses we use to bridge the present and the dreamed-of future. Humble, hopeful, fearful, human.
My dad, a Navy veteran and the most superstitious person I know, would throw salt over his shoulder to reverse bad luck, occasionally hitting a Denny’s waiter in the face. ‘Don’t worry, kids!’ he would call out as he went diving into the bushes to avoid an inky kitten. ‘I saw a little gray around the paws!’
From him, I learned that superstitions can be a form of prayer, as well as an exorcism in miniature. You release the fear that comes from feeling responsible for everything that happens to you — an especially American delusion… Fear does animate certain superstitions, but even this becomes a kind of thanksgiving. Flip the coin of fear, and you rediscover the ‘everything’ you have to lose…
Superstitions might not ward off suffering and death, but they can draw a dream into focus. ‘Our baby daughter is due this August,’ I have finally been able to tell people, after the tenuous early months when this felt unutterable. It’s a sentence I always punctuate by knocking on wood. Ancient people did this to summon dryads, the benevolent spirits inside trees. Far from conferring ‘the illusion of control,’ the sound connects me to everyone who has ever dared to hope for anything in this life with its single guarantee.”
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 improving oral skills. 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.
- I met a new acquaintance yesterday.
- He was frowning a little as he thought about my answer.
- I was aghast that this had been visible at rush hour
- They gave each other a high five at the end of the game.
- Superstitions can have an undeniable power.
- I learned that superstitions can be a form of prayer, as well as an exorcism in miniature.
- Superstitions might not ward off suffering and death.
- Fear does animate certain superstitions.
- Superstitious people are often dismissed as irrational.
- My dad, is a Navy veteran and the most superstitious person I know.
Grammar Focus: English SubjectPronouns
Directions:Students are to choose the correct subject pronouns in the sentences taken from the article.Review Subject pronouns here
A few months later, at the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, a friend waved me over. ‘Hey! I thought that was you. Were you praying back there?’ She’d seen me kneeling in mud, touching a solar-yellow dandelion. ‘Yes,’ I said, to expedite my day, because this seemed less bonkers than explaining what I was actually doing. From him, I learned that superstitions can be a form of prayer, You release the fear that comes from feeling responsible for everything that happens to you —
Reading Comprehension Fill-ins
Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentencestaken 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.
After ___Andrew ___our___in 1992 (a nine-foot storm surge seemed to choose us, leaving the other___on our block largely untouched), I ___a repertoire of new ___overnight, like mental___sprouting out of the ___that had flooded up to our ceiling.
WORD LIST:saltwater,mushrooms, developed, houses, Hurricane,destroyed, home, superstitions
- The article states, “Superstitious people are often dismissed as irrational, stunted thinkers — mental children who never outgrow a scrambled understanding of causality.”Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Explain why.
- What makes people superstitious?
- Are there any superstitions that you like?What are they?
- Are your relatives or friends superstitious? Give examples of some of their superstitions.
Directions: In groups review the following website: Bad Luck Signs. Choose a few of the superstitions listed. Try to think about how they might have started. Share your ideas 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.