Tag Archives: engaging students

Conversation Technique for Lighting Up the Pleasure Centers in Your Students’ Brains

Maybe this is why students tend to love their ESL classes.

We can actually include something in our lessons that will fire up the reward brain circuits in our students’ brains.  However, there can be a downside to this.

Neuroscientists at Harvard found that people’s brain reward circuits lit up when they were talking about themselves.  Amazingly, doing this can trigger the same sensations of pleasure in the brain as food, money or sex.

In other words, talking about ourselves feels good.  In fact, it feels so good that participants in a study were willing to accept 25% less money if it meant that they could talk about themselves rather than talk about someone else.

This research has interesting implications for our ESL classes.

We now know how to help our students enjoy conversation activities, and that’s good.  However, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Apparently, some students like the brain pleasure they feel so much that they can’t stop themselves from dominating conversations talking about themselves.

Techniques to encourage conversations/discussions but that keep students from dominating the activities.

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Whole Class Conversation Mixer Activity: Good for Students’ Skills, Brains and More

conversation standing

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)

Develop techniques, bond with classmates, improve cognitive performance all in one activity!

The first time I used this type of activity, I was a relatively new ESL Conversation teacher and just wanted something to get my students talking.  Over the years, I’ve developed it more to involve additional conversational techniques.  And from cognitive psychology, I discovered why students are so energized by it.

You may be familiar with a simple version of this activity called “Find someone who” in which students are given a list of items and directed to talk to their classmates and find someone who has that item or has done that activity.  For example, find someone who has a pet or has lived in Europe or has gone backpacking.  However, that simple version has limited value.

A much improved version of this type of activity with great benefits (and handout)

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Stimulating Small-Group Discussion Activity 3: “Does Social Media Make People Sadder?”

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)

Some reasons why students seemed stimulated by this discussion:

  1. They were interested to hear how their classmates used social media.
  2. They thought it was funny how they tended to post positive events in their lives rather than negative.
  3.  The article stimulated them to be “honest” about their reactions to the effects of social media.
  4. They discovered that some of their classmates have stopped using social media.

Here is the basis for this discussion: In an episode of NPR’s “Hidden Brain,” Shanker Vedantam explores the effects that social media can have on people. He shares examples of people who found themselves feeling dissatisfied with their lives after comparing themselves with others.  After reading the one-page article that I drew from that episode, my students were eager to share their experiences with their classmates.  The ideas in the article seemed to resonate with them.

This and future discussion activities include four parts:

1) A one-page article usually including a brief summary of a high-interest research study.
2) Ten true-false comprehension questions.
3) Pre-Discussion Exercise in which students read and think about several questions about their experience and opinions about the topic before discussing them in groups.
4) Small-group discussions of the article in which each student is given a paper with different content/personal experience questions in the form of Student A, B or C.

About Discussion Activity 3: Does Social Media Make People Sadder? and the handout.

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