Was 2016 Really the Worst Year for this Country?

“Oh, 2016. The year it all went to hell. The year nothing made sense…Where were you when you decided this would be how we remembered the year? When you decided 2016 was pure trash, utter filth, a fire in a dumpster? Was it when David Bowie died? Or when Prince ended his purple reign? Or when you realized that, whoever won, Election 2016 was going to be a hot, smoldering mess? Was it Brexit? Was it Harambe? Which terror attack did it for you? …But — and this is the strange part — by many measures, 2016 wasn’t nearly as bad as certain portions of the Internet have made it out to be. And it surely can’t be the worst year of all time.” S. Sanders, NPR

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Excerpt: Should We All Just Stop Calling 2016 ‘The Worst’? By Sam Sanders, NPR

“For millions of Americans whose wages went up, or who re-entered the economy (the U.S. has enjoyed an unemployment rate under 5 percent for months), maybe their year was good, too. The vast majority of Americans lived lives free from any direct personal effects from incidences of global (or even national) terror, or wars throughout the globe (not to minimize global unrest, which is a constant, and particularly troubling this year). Multiple measures of consumer confidence, in fact, trended up this year, in spite of months full of headlines indicating a world on the brink. Of something. Or a lot of things. The markets are up, too. And more people have health insurance. So, why then, is 2016 the worst?

Large portions of the Internet have declared 2016 one of the worst years-Luciano-LozanoGetty-ImagesIkon.

Well, let’s start with the obvious: the election. There’s no need to recount it all. But it was a hot mess. Russian hacks, assertions of the size of one’s manhood on a debate stage,  FBI investigations and Access Hollywood videos. But there’s more than that. Some of the ‘2016 is awful’ rhetoric might be about the way we all consumed the headlines this year. Amy Mitchell, director of Journalism Research at the Pew Research Center, says what we’ve been witnessing in news consumption trends over the last few years has changed us.

Every five minutes, another sad headline, another Twitter mention or fight, another shared link on Facebook, another push notification. Another hit. And even if the news isn’t even explicitly about us, trust, we’re still taking a hit…

But culture always reflects the time. There must be something deeper, a certain logic or pathology that would lead thousands to deem this year so awful, and to declare as much, so publicly, and consistently, online, for months…For most of us, myself included, tweeting that 2016 is the worst, or even tweeting at all, is an exercise in privilege. The air in which one offers cultural criticism (including this very essay), memes and gif-able 140-character bursts, is rarefied. If your year was really the worst, you probably wouldn’t be tweeting about it. We weren’t in this spot a few years ago — this collective, ironic, gripe-fest — during those glory days of tweeting about being bored in meetings or what you had for lunch, or being so numbingly comfortable in your own world that you put your home address on Facebook.

Smile, 2017 is going to be better!

That seems to be all over now…So, 2016. Sure. Let’s call it the worst. But let’s also acknowledge that saying 2016 is the worst on Twitter says more about the tweeter, and the medium, than perhaps about the year itself.”

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: 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 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. Now it’s all irony, or sarcasm.
  2. Social media isn’t nice anymore.
  3. At it’s best, it’s just a little flip.
  4. We are in this collective, ironic, gripe-fest.
  5. Back then we were all so numbingly comfortable in  our own world.
  6. Now our feeds are just a record of discontent.
  7. You don’t necessarily go online looking for news each and every time.
  8. That constant bumping into news and online becomes an assault.
  9. Some people are constantly online and engaged in some way.
  10. A lot of the headlines we consumed this year was negative.

Reading Comprehension

Word -Recognition

Directions: Students choose the correct word to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented.

Now it’s all irony/iron, or sarcasm, or bomb/bombast. Saying 2016 is the worst online might just be us accepting that social/socially media caught up with the lesser angels/angles of our nature/natural. Social media/meds isn’t nice anymore. At it’s best, it’s just a little flip/slip. Now our feeds are just a record of discontent, or the performance thereof.

Grammar: Identifying Articles

Directions: Have students choose the correct English articles (THE, A, AN) to fill in the blank sentences.

Some of ___2016 is awful rhetoric might be about___ way we all consumed___ headlines this year.

A lot of ___shift to digital is presenting___news experience that is more mixed in with other kinds of activities.

That constant bumping into news and online discord can over time becomes___ assault.

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?


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. “A lot of the shift to digital is presenting a news experience that is more mixed in with other kinds of activities. You don’t necessarily go online looking for news each and every time. Somebody shares it, somebody emails it to you, somebody texts a link. And so many Americans are bumping into the news throughout the course of the day.”
  2. “It’s the medium…using social media to declare 2016 the worst ever is the latest example of how we use the Internet: ironically, with hyperbole, and usually, with a wink and a nod. It’s how we cope…the very act of such tweeting indicates a certain level of privilege. If you’re on Twitter, you’re on a mobile device, probably one of the newest ones, one of the new phones.”


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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