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I’d like to share with you some incredible lesson plans.

Level: intermediate to advanced

Primary goal: build vocab

Secondary goals: reading, listening, prosody (word stress, timing, intonation)

Time: Adaptable (max of 2 hours in-class, 3-6 hours of homework)

How it works

Each resource has three lessons and three homework assignments.

Before the first class, the student takes a vocabulary quiz based on a resource. This is nothing too complicated–just a Google document where they mark how well they know each word.

Then, in the first lesson, I ask them questions to prep the vocabulary in the video. I use their answers in the vocabulary quiz to choose which vocabulary to focus on.

AFTER taking the pre-vocab quiz and prepping the vocab, I tell them which video to watch (or article to read). They watch/read for homework. I also send them main idea, detail, logic, and inference questions. If it’s a video, they also get prosody (word stress, timing, intonation) questions. They should prepare answers.

In the second lesson, we review the questions. I also help them with anything they had troubles with. We might review some grammar or speaking skills.

Next, we usually take a week or two off. (The lessons continue, but we do a different topic.)

After the break, we return to the article/video. I’ll give them one more assignment and we review it in the third lesson.

Note on Google Docs: I made the folder public on the web. You can copy/paste it to edit it to suit your needs. I think that’s easier, but let me know if you’d like a PDF version:)

Saturday Listening Lesson: Nilofer Merchant 2



(1) To point out: To show a specific thing

I should point out that you need to file this with the other CVs.

(2) Timing: The speed we use when we say something. Also how long we wait between sounds.

Careful timing can make your listeners notice some words more.

(3) Stress: Emphasizing a word by making it louder and longer.

You should stress the important words and say the unimportant words quickly.



1. In the first example, why does she have three big pauses?

a. To add melody to her speech

b. She’s nervous

c. To make you listen carefully

2. What’s the difference between “I had some rice.” and “I did have some rice”?

a. In the first, we don’t know anything for sure

b. The first strengthens the idea because there’s no did

c. The second strengthens the idea because of did

3. Why does she say some words slowly and some words quickly?

a. To stress some words (the important words)

b. She’s nervous

c. To add melody to her speech


Saturday Listening Lesson


By Jeremy Schaar

When listening to a video, you might notice a new word. You might write down the word and then try using it later. After you use it a few times, you remember it and then you know that word. That’s a great way to learn vocabulary. But, if you want to listen better, you need to do a little more. You need to notice how people speak and try to learn those things, just like you learn vocabulary.

I’ve covered this great video by Nilofer Merchant before. But today, I’d like to point out five sentences she says. You should note how she says them and try to repeat speak in the same way.


“What you’re doing, right now, at this very moment, is killing you.”

Note her timing. There’s a big pause with each comma. She does this to make people listen carefully.


“Sitting is so incredibly prevalent, we don’t even question how much we’re doing it.”

Note how quickly she says “we don’t even”. She says “wedoneven”. You should say it the same. (You can’t really hear the “t” sound at all.) As long as you stress question, people will understand you.


“What did get me moving, was a social interaction.”

Note how much she emphasizes the word “did”. She could have just said “What got me…”, but using a strong did gives the sentence strength.

Also note how she emphasizes the word “social” because it’s the most important word in the sentence.


“Could you come then?”

Note how she says “kudjuh” instead of “could you”. Then both “come” and “then” are stressed equally.


“First there’s this amazing thing about actually getting out of the box, that leads to out-of-the-box-thinking.”

Note how she says some words quickly (“there’s this”) and other words slowly (“out of the box”) to focus our attention on the important words. Words that don’t give any meaning are said quickly.

So, how well did you understand? As always, if you have any questions or want more practice, comment on the blog, Facebook, or Twitter.


Answers To Today’s Questions

C, C, A


You Can Do It All Yourself But You Dont Have To

Saturday Listening Lesson–Designing For Five Senses and Speaking Practice



(1) Intonation: The way your voice goes up and down while you speak.

In English, rising intonation can create a question..

(2) Word Stress: How loud and long you say something.

You need to give word stress to the important words.

(3) Timing: The speed you say different things and the pauses in your speech.

Timing is very important when singing or telling a joke.



1. What is this video about?

a. Prosody

b. Word stress, timing, and intonation

c. Using five senses in design

2. Why is it hard to understand these phrases?

a. People say them quickly

b. People don’t use the same intonation

c. They have hard vocabulary

3. Why are non-native speakers hard to understand?

a. They have bad grammar

b. They use different intonation, word stress, and timing

c. They use strange words


Saturday Listening Lesson


By Jeremy Schaar

Today’s Saturday listening lesson is on an easy idea. Jinsop Lee says that most design focuses on sight and touch. But these are only two of the five sense. He suggests that designers should start thinking about sound, taste, and smell. Good idea, right?

He makes a chart to show this and I think you’ll easily understand the video.

It’s also a good idea for anyone who makes or markets a product.

For you improving your listening, let’s focus on a few phrases that are simple, but difficult to understand.

:30 Let me tell you about: This is used before presenting an idea

2:30 To do this: This is used before explain how to do something

4:15 I used to: This is used to talk about some past action

4:50 It’s because of the: This is used to explain why something is true

These phrases are easy to understand when you read them, but hard to understand when you hear them. They’re hard because native speakers say them so quickly. We push the words together. Watch these videos to understand. You’ll hear me say the expressions above and then hear Jinsop say them in the video.

While you listen, notice my intonation pattern is similar, but the timing and word stress are different.

For your practice, you need to do two things.

(1) When you’re listening to someone speak, notice the way they say the words.

(2) Practice speaking like Jinsop. If you can speak like him, then you can understand him.

Non-native speakers are really hard to understand when their intonation, timing, or word stress is different, so work hard to make sure yours sounds like a native speaker.

So, how well did you understand? As always, if you have any questions or want more practice, comment on the blog, Facebook, or Twitter.


Answers To Today’s Questions

C, A, B


You Can Do It All Yourself But You Dont Have To

Matt Cutts: Try something new for 30 days


This TED talk is about trying new things and setting goals.

Before you watch… (Discussion Questions) Questions to make watching the video easier

What new things have you done recently?
What’s something you want to try to do?
Is there anything you want to stop doing?
What healthy habits do you have?
How much time do you need to form a habit?
What things do you do that are unhealthy?
Do you like to try new things? Why/why not?

Before you watch… (Vocabulary Prep) Questions to make learning the vocabulary easier

An example of “being stuck in a rut” is when a baseball player can’t get a hit for a long time. It means to not be able to do well. Can you think of a time you were stuck in a rut?
Would you like your children to follow in the footsteps or lead a different type of life?
How have your habits changed over the years?
What do you want to add to your life? What do you want to subtract?
How do you challenge yourself or push yourself to be better?
People often say that time flies. Can you think of a memorable event or experience that flew by for you?
What advice would you give to someone who wants to grow their self-confidence? (have a bigger belief that they can do well)
Some people like to move around when they work. Others are desk-dwelling. Which are you?
Do you love computers? Are you a computer nerd?
What’s something you learned not because you needed to, but just for fun?
Do you think you’ll end up working at one company for over 20 years?
Have you ever hiked up a mountain? Would you like to?
Do you know someone with an adventurous spirit? Someone who likes to try new things and take risks? Describe them.
Do you think it’s better to let people figure out problems by themselves or to tell them the solution?
What long books–novels–have you read?
Do you like to cook from scratch or to eat pre-made food?
Do you usually get enough sleep or are you sleep-deprived?
“Awful” means really bad. Can you think of three more words that mean really bad? What are you awful at?
What is the difference between a scientist and an engineer?
“Sustainable” means that you can do it for a long time. What makes a business unsustainable?
When’s the last time you had a ton of fun? (a lot of fun)
Is it possible for you to give up eating meat and/or candy?
To give something a shot means to try something, usually for the first time. For a company, is it important to sometimes give strange people a shot?

Before you watch… (Listening Prep) When asking these questions, emphasize how the words link together to the student.

Can you think of a movie with a surprise ending? How does it turn out? “it turns out” (at :37)
What’s just about the right amount of sleep for you? “just about the right amount of” (at :38)
I would never have been an astronaut. How about you? “I would never have been” (at 1:25)
Have you ever wanted to just travel for a year? “have you ever wanted to” (at 1:38)
What’s something you’d like to mention to your boss? “I’d like to mention” (at 2:32)
Is there anything wrong with big, crazy challenges? “There’s nothing wrong with” (at 2:42)
What’s something you know you should do soon? What are you waiting for? “what are you waiting for” (at 2:59)
Whether you like it or not, we all grow old. How does it make you feel? “whether you like it or not” (at 3:05)

Detail Questions #1 First set of detail questions

What is a 30-day challenge?
What does it mean to be stuck in a rut?
Does he have a simple or a complex idea?
What things does he learn while doing the 30-day challenges
What memorable day does he mention? Which challenge was he doing?
How did he change as a person?
What does it mean to write a novel from scratch?
What adjective does he use to describe his book?
Which changes are most likely to stick?
What question does he ask at the end?

Detail Questions #2 Second set of detail questions. (Meant for a follow-up lesson.)

Whose footsteps does he follow in?
Why does he choose 30 days?
How does he feel about the time before he started doing 30-day challenges?
How do the challenges affect his self-confidence?
What big thing did he end up doing?
What example does he give of a popular 30-day challenge?
What is his secret to successfully writing a novel in 30 days? What negative thing might happen?
How does he normally introduce himself at a TED party? (What’s his job?)
How does he feel about big, crazy challenges?
What guarantee does he make at the end?

Detail Questions #3 Third set of detail questions. (Meant for a follow-up lesson.)

What example does he give of a habit you might want to add or subtract?
How does he feel about the time after he started doing 30-day challenges?
Do the challenges get easier or harder?
Why did he become more adventurous?
What challenge do tens of thousands of people do every November?
Did he write a great book? Why/Why not?
How might he now introduce himself at parties?
What happened the day after his month without sugar ended?
What suggestion does he make at the end?

Follow-up Questions #1 First set of follow-up questions

Why do you think he chose harder challenges as time passed?
Name three challenges you might try where you add a new thing to your life.
Why do you think it’s important to make small, sustainable changes if you want a new habit?
Why does he say “if you want something badly enough” before saying you can do anything for 30 days?
He mentions a few good things about doing the challenges–they make his life more memorable, he gains confidence, he becomes more adventurous–do you agree that doing the challenges would have those results?

Follow-up Questions #2 Second set of follow-up questions (Meant for a follow-up lesson.)

Why do you think he presents his idea as a simple idea? How does it make his audience feel?
Name three challenges you might try where you subtract something from your life?
He says small, sustainable changes are more likely to stick, but do you have something big you’d like to change?
Think of someone you know well–like a boss, spouse, or good friend–what challenge would you recommend they try?
What kind of guy is Matt Cutts? Do you think you could be friends with him?

Follow-up Questions #3 Third set of follow-up questions (Meant for a follow-up lesson.)

If you tried to write a book in 30 days, what would you write about? Would it be any good?
Why might he not want to introduce himself as a computer scientist?
He seems like a nerdy guy. Do you agree? Why? What nerdy things does he do?
Will you follow his advice and try something new for 30 days?

Homework #1 (Write Something)

30 Day Challenge #1

Write a comment on a TED video every day for 30 days. It can be the same video or a different video, but you should write something each day.

Homework #2 (Read Something)

30 Day Challenge #2

Go to For 30 days, read one of his short articles on learning English.


Find a blog related to your field. Read it for 20 minutes every day for 30 days.

Homework #3 (Say Something)

30 Day Challenge #3

Every day, for 30 days, find the lyrics to an English song you like and sing it at least one time. You can find the video on YouTube and sing along.

Eric Berlow: How complexity leads to simplicity


This TED talk is about taking complex things and making them simple. It’s a great lesson for anyone who deals with complex things. (For example a manager or a doctor.)

Before you watch… (Discussion Questions) Questions to make watching the video easier

What complex problems do you have in your life?
Do you love complex things?
What are all the animals that live in or around a lake? What happens if you introduce a new fish?
What’s your strategy for organizing things?
What are the challenges of organizing a war?

Before you watch… (Vocabulary Prep) Questions to make learning the vocabulary easier

When was a time you felt overwhelmed? (A time you felt a lot of stress because you were so busy.)
What’s something you’ve made that was well-crafted? (Made well.)
Do you know someone who you’re interconnected to? (For example you work with them and you went to university together and you know their sister.)
Which country are you native to? (Where are you originally from?)
Where do you anticipate you’ll be living next year?
What predictions do you have for this/next year?
Can you think of a good insight you had recently? (You understood something well and therefore had a good ide.)
Do you know about Apple’s supply chain? How do they make computers?
Guess how many degrees of separation are between you and the president. (How close are you to knowing the president personally?)
Ridicule is when you make fun of someone or try to make a person look bad. Can you think of someone you’ve ridiculed?
What’s a recent project you really sunk your teeth into? (Became very interested in and tried hard to do well.)
Which terrain is better: a desert or a cold mountain?
Could you draw a diagram of a chair? A house? A car?
Can you think of a time something was worrying you but in the end it was OK. What happened? Why were you relieved?
Big changes can be hard, but sometimes we embrace change. What’s a change you accepted and enjoyed?

Before you watch… (Listening Prep) When asking these questions, emphasize how the words link together to the student.

What’s something you didn’t think of before starting your job? (or schooling?) “you didn’t think of” (at 1:19)
If you want to become a politician, what should you do? “if you want to” (at 1:33)
What are one or two things you do every morning? “one or two” (at 1:53)
How was the weather a couple months ago compared to today? “a couple months ago” (2:13)

Detail Questions #1 First set of detail questions

What is his goal for his talk?
What is his example of “complex”?
What is his example of “complicated”?
What is a “food web”?
What happens to the grayed-out species?
Why were the effects unanticipated?
What insights about complexity does he mention?
Why does he mention the flow of carbon through corporate supply chains and the interconnections of habitat patches for endangered species in Yosemite National Park?
Why should you hone in on a sphere of influence?
Usually, how many degrees away are the things that matter?
What complex problem does he present?
Why did the media ridicule it?
Why does he want to sink his teeth into the problem?
How does he change the U.S. government’s diagram?
What does the circled node indicate?
What does it mean for a node to be “not actionable”?
What is “fair, transparent economic development”?
How does he hope you’ll react to to complex diagrams in the future?

Detail Questions #2 Second set of detail questions. (Meant for a follow-up lesson.)

How long will he speak?
What is his job?
Which food web does he show?
What does it mean to be on the brink of extinction?
What insights about complexity does he mention?
What’s the difference between “one link” and a “sphere of influence”?
How does embracing complexity help you find simple answers?
What complex problem is courtesy of the U.S. government?
What was the U.S. government’s goal?
Does he think it’s a complicated problem?
What does the circled node indicate?
What are examples of nodes that are not actionable?
What is “provisioning of services”?
Why does he hope you’ll be excited by complex diagrams in the future?

Detail Questions #3 Third set of detail questions. (Meant for a follow-up lesson.)

What is his example of “complex”?
What does he study?
What does it mean to stock a lake with non-native fish?
Why is it surprising that lakes with fish have more mosquitos?
How can good visualisations tools help with complex problems?
Why should you hone in on a sphere of influence?
What does it mean to switch gears?
Which newspaper reported the complex chart about the war in Afghanistan?
Was the goal in Afghanistan a complex problem?
What’s the difference between a spaghetti diagram and an ordered network?
What’s the first step in order to eliminate three-quarters of the diagram?
What is “active engagement with ethnic rivalries and religious beliefs”?
How much time did he spend to decipher the diagram?
Why is it important to zoom out and embrace complexity?

Follow-up Questions #1

Do complex problems excite you?
Was this talk helpful to you personally? How?
What’s an organization chart?
What does the organization chart look like at your job?
Which do you think is more important: active engagement with ethnic rivalries and religious beliefs OR fair, transparent economic development and provisioning of services.

Follow-up Questions #2

How do people normally approach complex problems? How is his advice different? Give an example to support your answer.
What’s a complex problem that you’ve solved?
What problems do you imagine a big supply chain company such as Apple has? How might they use the advice in this video?
What complicated things are you good at?
What complicated things are you bad at?

Follow-up Questions #3

Who do you know that is good at solving complex problems? Who are they? What do they do? Why are they good at?
How about the opposite? Who do you know that is bad at solving complex problems? Who are they? What do they do? Why are they bad at it?
Is problem solving something that schools teach well? Why/why not?
What professions need good problem solving skills?
What’s more important when solving a problem at work: leadership or good analytic skills?

Homework #1 (Write Something)

Write 1-2 pages. Answer the following questions. Try to use vocabulary from the video.

Think of a complex problem you know about. Describe the problem. If you have solved it, describe how you solved it. If you haven’t solved it, describe you plan for solving it.

Homework #2 (Read Something)

Read the comments below the video. Find five that are interesting to you. Be ready to describe them in the next session.

Homework #3 (Say Something)

Choose five new vocabulary words from this video. Find a friend or a colleague and teach them the words. Use English to explain what the words mean.

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