Category: syllabus & materials design

New roleplay for intercultural practice

New roleplay based on something my students taught me. Much like Korea, Brazilians often live with their parents until they get married. An American might not see this as normal so an American dating a 30-year-old from Brazil might wonder what’s wrong with the Brazilian who lives with his or her parents.

Some Korean American intercultural roleplays

Based on giving and receiving compliments:

I laugh in your face

I say no

Yes I am brilliant

Adult only roleplay: Peter Freuchen accidentally propositioning an eskimo girl

I was reading The Adventurer’s Handbook just now and there was an interesting bit about explorer Peter Freuchen. This is a cultural difference that adult learners might find fun. It should also be useful in that it gives students a chance to resolve a cultural miscommunciation.


You are Peter Freuchen, a Danish explorer trying to map Greenland and reach the North Pole. In 1906 you see an eskimo girl walking by and in order to be nice and make good relations with the natives, you offer her a ride on your sled. She doesn’t want to get on your sled and starts pointing at her hair. Tell her that you don’t understand why she’s pointing at her hair.


You are an eskimo girl. Some Danish guy on a sled just propositioned you (a man offering a woman a ride on his sleigh is a sexual proposition). You don’t want to have sex with him but it doesn’t matter anyway because you are menstruating. You point at your hair, which is down (this indicates you are having our period and are unavailable for sex).

They deserved to get kicked off that plane – debate & discussion speaking activity

Gonna try something new today – a quasi-roleplay for debate / discussion. Normally for debate class we do formal academic style debates but one of the goals for the class is for students to be able to apply their logic in regular conversations (arguments). Anyway, this lesson idea was born last night as I was thinking about giving students a chance to apply their debate skills in an informal conversational setting.

Each student thinks one of the following people should have been allowed to fly while all the others deserved to get kicked off their planes.

Cynthia Angel was worried her pilot may have been drinking, shared her concern with a flight attendant, and was kicked off the plane after the pilot passed a breathalyzer. She wasn’t the only one who thought she smelled alcohol on the pilot’s breath but she was the only one with the courage to say something about it.

Rachel Collier, a 16-year-old girl, was not allowed to fly after a fit of coughing. A doctor on the plane said she’d be fine for her 10 hour flight but Continental Airlines kicked her off the plane anyway. She was on a school trip so a teacher had to stay with her until they could find a flight the next day.

Kate Penland and her 19-month-old baby were kicked off a plane as a possible terrorist threat when the baby said “bye bye plane” repeatedly. A flight attendant told the mother to get her baby to quit saying what she viewed as disturbing / threatening remarks but the baby kept at it.

Emily Gillette (same link as above) was kicked off a Delta flight when she refused to hide her breast feeding. She was asked to use a blanket to keep the breast feeding out of sight from other passengers but refused and was asked to leave the plane. She was in the window seat in the second to last row with her husband sitting next to her.

Kyla Ebbert was removed from a flight and told her outfit was too provocative and revealing. She was able to take the flight after pulling up her top (to show less cleavage) and pulling down her skirt (to show less thigh / underwear) but feels humiliated that she was singled out and told she was dressing inappropriately (showing too much skin).

So in the conversation activity, each student gets assigned one of those women (why are only women getting kicked off planes?) to defend and insists that the others should not have been allowed to fly.

Informal English vocabulary in the context of public speaking advice

This is authentic language from an English message board. It was a football message board for New York Giants fans. Chances are good that all posters were American males.

Original poster: Have to do a 30 min presentation for work tomorrow. It’s been like 8 years since I did my last one (HS) and I’m getting a little anxious/nervous on this one.

Public speaking is the most common fear as you all know, and as some of you are professionals who probably give speeches from time to time, does anybody have any advice? I don’t mean to be complaining or bitching, but I can’t be the only one who feels like this before giving a presentation, right? especially one this long….

I should probably just take a shot of Jameson in the bathroom before I go out and I’ll be good to go but I am only 22 and this is my first real presentation in front of my team and some of the big honchos in my company. Just wanna make sure I’m good to go.

Answer 1: Use PowerPoint if it fits what you’ll be doing. Gives folks something to look at, gives you easy reference points, and makes sure you stay on pace/target. Very bare-bones advice, but a start. That, and picture everyone in the room in their underwear.

Answer 2: For me, when I am nervous, I will speak too fast. I basically have to remind myself to breath to slow myself down.

Answer 3: Practice naked in front of a mirror (at home) and record yourself. Watch the video over and over, until you find your flaws.

Answer 4: Nut up and Hoover up a big line of good coke. You may suck but you will still feel like partying.

Answer 5: You are not alone…most everyone has some amount of anxiety before presenting. I may be stating the obvious but preparation is the magic pill. If you are prepared and know your subject matter then you will overcome your initial angst. If you have put in the time and are prepared then know that you will be the expert in the room. Good luck!

Answer 5: Make sure you clean the pipes before you leave for work in the morning, whether it be your wife, girlfriend, hand etc. Doesn’t matter. It helps with anxiety like this.

Answer 6: 1. Tell them what you are going to tell them

2. Tell them

3. Tell them what you just told them

Answer 7: My first real presentation was in grad school, and I had a few drinks before and was still nervous, but definitely less than had I not had the drinks.

Now I present every day and it’s no big deal. My advice to you is have a few drinks – a couple shots of vodka should settle your nerves.

Or, what you could do is simply make sure you are very prepared and totally comfortable with the content you are presenting. I find that people who are well versed in the content they are presenting come off as less nervous than people who didn’t put in the prep time. Or try the vodka.

Answer 8: Know the material you’re presenting and you’ll always be fine

Answer 9: bahaha… yeah … do shots of vodka … before your presentation … for work. That’s fantastic advice right there. Some of you guys are just looking for a “I did my presentation – then was FIRED!” thread.

Answer 10: Be prepared…bottom line. To the point where you believe that you’re the expert on whatever topic you’re presenting…you’ll be fine

Answer 11: My trick is easy – just focus on a few people in the audience and keep looking at them when you talk. Maybe one down in front, one on the far left and one on the far right. Then you’re basically having a 3-4 person conversation, which is a lot less intimidating than having a 30 person conversation.

Oh yeah and be prepared of course, haha.

Answer 12: 30 mins will fly by. I’m not saying prepare 1/4 of what you feel like you had to, but keep an eye on the clock, you may have to cut on the fly. I know I always have a tendency to over prepare my remarks for fear of running out of things to say.

Answer 13: I do this a lot. Be comfortable with your material. That will help you the most. Focus on several individuals primarily (although make sure to look everyone in the eye at least once). Be cognizant that you are the teacher and the others are the students.

And lastly, be confident. It’s amazing, if you hear a tape of yourself, how much better you are than what you probably think you are.

Answer 14: If you mess up, keep going. Throw in a joke or too, if the situation is appropriate.

Answer 15: Here is some advice that works for me. First: Prepare the talk and practice it. Prepare it as far as you need, even if you have to write a script.

Second: When you are falling asleep tonight think about your presentation. That is, go through what you are going to say in your mind as you slowly drift off. I am not talking something that will keep you awake by making you nervous, just think about it in a relaxed state as you drift off. This works for me; I generally don’t need to use notes if I do the above.

Answer 16: I do a lot of oral arguments in court and my best advice is to write out what you want to say. Then boil that down to a one page list of topics and sub topics that summarize what you wrote out.

First using the written text, then using the list of topics, rehearse and re-rehearse your speech until you know it by heart. Then throw away the full text. Don’t even bring it.

When you do the presentation, do not read from the list of topics. You should know what you are going to say well enough that you don’t need to refer to it. If you do get sidetracked or lost, you can look at the list of topics to get yourself back on track.

Whatever you do, don’t just read your speech. Extemporaneous speaking is 1000x more compelling than a read speech, unless you’re using a teleprompter and you’re highly experienced in its use.

Answer 17: To be honest, I have been as nervous as a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest before some of my talks. But, you know what, the more nervous I have been, the better the results have been.

Answer 18: Yeah, prepare, but here are some don’ts:

1-no um’s, well’s, or other fillers. just take a second to think about what you want to say and then say it

2-don’t touch your face, scratch your head, do any nervous ticks. it’s distracting and childish

3-stand still unless you are walking to another point. don’t waddle or sway. swaying is a very common distraction

Answer 19: Also, one of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard in this regard is from Chris Berman oddly enough. He was talking in the context of TV, but I find it applicable to any sort of public speaking and I have sort of adopted the mentality particularly when I’m in Court, etc… he said, if you mess up, say something silly, whatver, its already out, so just let it drift off into outer space and keep going. I dont know, for some reason its easier for me to think of screw ups as tangible items that are continually floating farther and farther into outer space than impressions that will remain with the listener for as long as they choose to keep them.

Answer 20: I hate Powerpoint, not that it’s a bad tool, or particularly hard to use, but it’s so misused it’s not even funny.

Either you get guys who write a book in PPT form and hand it out, or they write cryptic bulleted items that are unrelated to the conversation. In both cases, you have people more distracted by the presentation materials than assisted.

Do yourself a favor – if you do go the Powerpoint route, keep it lightweight. People should be focusing on you and what you have to say, not a piece of paper.

Answer 21: Just relax. Public speaking is easy, you’ll gain confidence as you’re speaking. Honestly you just need to fall in love with the sound of your voice a little bit. If you’re charismatic and confident, it will be well received. On the other hand, no matter how solid the information is, if you deliver it poorly, it will be received poorly. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.

Answer 22: PowerPoint visuals should either be pages with outlines of what you’re discussing, to give a frame of the presentation, or for those occasions where you need to make reference to a chart/list/graph that’s germane to your talk.

Answer 23: This might sound nuts but punch yourself in the stomach (wind yourself) before doing the presentation, especially if you feel you will talk to fast. The lack of breath will help you slow down a bit. It sounds so silly.

Also, Don’t read from the slides, talk to the audience. And be prepared, practice practice practice. Do it in a mirror, record yourself, time yourself, write down questions you might think the audience will ask. You will do great.

Answer 24: What is funny is this method to presenting, which is commonly used in US presentations, does not always cut mustard in Europe. Often times, declaring the point of a presentation is not done until the very end, in Europe.

I lost count of the number of times I’ve sat through European presentations mumbling- “What’s the Point”? and sometimes, even that was missing in the mumbo jumbo….

Answer 25: Good advice by everyone here. I think the real basics in terms of controlling your nervousness when presenting are to speak slowly, breath deep and use proper diction/inflection.

If you’re really freaking out about it, pop a Xanex.

Answer 26: Good advice here. I would add my favorite tip – bring water. I use this when delivering presentations and also when interviewing. Take a drink from time to time.

* Only use water. You are asking for trouble if you bring anything else, especially anything carbonated or that could stain.

* Make yourself take a drink from time to time. During your rehearsals schedule a drink at certain points. That’s when you check your time – make sure you’re keeping pace as expected.

* Drinking is natural and should calm you down and slow down your speaking.

* Taking a drink during any question & answer period allows for you to pause before responding. Whenever I am asked a difficult question that might require some time to reflect for a good answer, I begin taking a drink immediately. The key is to begin BEFORE they finish asking the question. This buys you a moment to reflect.

Answer 27: Most has been covered but if it’s a PowerPoint presentation, I try to keep the power point slides to the base minimal message and graphics/data that cannot be presented orally.

Also, when I have to give papers and the like or talk in front of client and regulators, all I have to do is think of the subject matter and then everything flows from there. Being well prepared in terms of understanding your subject goes miles in terms of making presentations easy.

Answer 28: Take 3 minutes a few times today and visualize a very successful presentation…capture the feeling of being relaxed and smooth during your presentation…remember this feeling just before you begin…break a leg

Answer 29: Do your homework and make sure you know your material. If you are not sure you can make it last 30 minutes, make your presentation interactive, engage the audience to participate. Usually there is some long winded “expert” in the audience that will be more than happy to burn the time for you.

Answer 30: I implore you, don’t try to lower expectations by saying something like “I’m not that comfortable” or “it’s been a long time.” I see it all the time – it simply alerts the audience to look for your shortcomings as a speaker as opposed to focusing on the content of your speech.

The water trick is a good one. All the methods of self visualization give you confidence going in.

Answer 31: Only put bullet points on the ppt slides, no full sentences. Don’t read from screen and don’t read from note cards

Answer 32: What others said about using power point to give you reminders and keep you on track. If you want people to remember you, give a good speech. If you want people to LOVE you, serve refreshments. It’s worth the money.

ESL listening exercise – cultural differences found by exchange students in America

Here’s a little listening / conversation activity I designed.

Student 1 (boy from Spain)

Student 2 (boy from Germany)

Student 3 (girl from New Zealand)

Student 4 (boy from Norway)

Student 2 again (boy from Germany)

There’s a lot of school spirit in America

Stuff is big in America

Americans don’t kiss each other on the cheeks


American high schools have organized sports teams and cheerleaders

Americans drive on the wrong side of the road

A lot of food has peanut butter in it

Conversation questions:

If you were an exchange student in America, which of these cultural differences would affect you the most? Which would you enjoy and which would bother you? Why?

What cultural differences would exchange students in your country have trouble with? Which cultural differences might they enjoy?

Cultural differences roleplay: An American eating in Japan

Here’s a good scene from Mr. Baseball to introduce the topic of cultural differences. I typically have students watch once as they try to list the cultural differences they see. Then we go over the differences as a class and students watch again, looking for all the cultural differences mentioned. Then we do the roleplay (beneath the video).

Students can describe the cultural differences evident in this scene from the movie Mr. Basbeball and can then move on to other activities like listing more cultural differences related to eating or cultural differences they have experienced firsthand or ones they have seen in other movies.


Mr. Baseball – You are Jack Elliot, an American Major League Baseball player. At least you used to be. You’re getting old and no longer good enough to play for your old team, the Yankees. Now you are playing in Japan. You just had dinner with your team’s manager’s family. They seemed upset with you. Speak with Hiroko, the manager’s daughter to find out what went wrong.

Hiroko – You are the manager’s daughter and you’re supposed to show a baseball player who is new to Japan how to handle Japanese culture. He just made a few errors during a family dinner and now your father is upset with both you and the American. Tell him what he can do differently next time.

You can then ask students to bring in their own roleplay based on a movie clip that shows a cultural difference. They should be given a few weeks for this assignment. Students need to submit a link to where the movie clip can be found online (like on Youtube) or be able to bring in the DVD (hopefully the school library or media center has these available).

A getting to know you ESL lesson plan based on Harry Potter sorting hat songs

In this activity, students do a couple of hard listenings to get the main traits (some of which will be new vocab words) of each Hogwart’s House. Then they compose interview questions and finally interview one or more classmates in order to sort them into houses. It’s a kind of getting to know you activity so I remind students to keep it friendly. Going into Slytherin doesn’t make some evil – it makes them ambitious. Not getting into Ravenclaw doesn’t mean someone’s stupid. It just means that the interviewer was more impressed by their courage (Gryffindor), work ethic (Hufflepuff) or whatever. This is pretty much the same as this Harry Potter ESL lesson plan but I’ve added the videos and maybe rephrased some things.

Warmer: Show students the following clip.

The sorting hat scene starts around 1:20. It doesn’t actually have the song that was in the book though.

Listening 1. I read the one from the first Harry Potter book. Students take the following words / phrases and match them to one of the 4 houses: brave, just, wit, unafraid of toil, wise, chivalry, a ready mind, cunning, daring, loyal, nerve, patient, true, use any means to achieve their ends, learning.

Sorting Hat Song – Year One

Oh, you may not think I’m pretty,

But don’t judge on what you see,

I’ll eat myself if you can find

A smarter hat than me.

You can keep your bowlers black,

Your top hats sleek and tall,

For I’m the Hogwarts Sorting Hat

And I can cap them all.

There’s nothing hidden in your head

The Sorting Hat can’t see,

So try me on and I will tell you

Where you ought to be.

You might belong in Gryffindor,

Where dwell the brave at heart,

Their daring, nerve, and chivalry

Set Gryffindors apart;

You might belong in Hufflepuff,

Where they are just and loyal,

Those patient Hufflepuffs are true,

And unafraid of toil;

Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw,

If you’ve a ready mind,

Where those of wit and learning,

Will always find their kind;

Or perhaps in Slytherin

You’ll make your real friends,

Those cunning folk use any means

To achieve their ends;

So put me on! Don’t be afraid!

And don’t get in a flap!

You’re in safe hands (though I have none)

For I’m a Thinking Cap!

This one has the second listening I do – from the Goblet of Fire novel. Students match the following:

Gryffindor was… sweet

Ravenclaw was… shrewd

Hufflepuff was… bold

Slytherin was… fair

Gryffindor liked… students with great ambition

Ravenclaw liked… the bravest students

Hufflepuff liked… the cleverest students

Slytherin liked… hard workers

And the lyrics:

Sorting Hat Song – Year Four

A thousand years or more ago,

When I was newly sewn,

There lived four wizards of renown,

Whose names are still well known:

Bold Gryffindor, from wild moor,

Fair Ravenclaw, from glen,

Sweet Hufflepuff, from valley broad,

Shrewd Slytherin, from fen.

They shared a wish, a hope, a dream,

They hatched a daring plan

to educate young sorcerers

Thus Hogwarts School Began.

Now each of these four founders,

Formed their own house, for each,

Did value different virtues

In the ones they had to teach.

By Gryffindor, the bravest were,

Where they are just and loyal

Prized far beyind the rest;

For Ravenclaw, the cleverest

Would always be the best;

For Hufflepuff, hard workers were

Most worthy of admission;

And power-hungry Slytherin

Loved those of great ambition.

While still alive they did divide

Their favorites from the throng,

Yet how to pick the worthy ones

When they were dead and gone?

‘Twas Gryffindor who found the way,

He whipped me off his head

The founders put some brains in me

So I could choose instead!

Now slip me snug about your ears,

I’ve never yet been wrong,

I’ll have a look inside your brain

And see where you belong!

The song from the 5th book is not really suitable if you ask me – it doesn’t really mention the traits this lesson plan is based on.

Soccer vs. football in American sports culture

A lot of people ask me why soccer isn’t more popular in America. I have collected some materials on that but recently came a cross another comment that I found really interesting:

“Soccer is what kids do until their fathers can convince their mothers that they wont get hurt playing football. I respect the sport and the athletes, but it is never going to be big here.”

This statement (from a guy on a football web site) shows the relationship between the two sports in America. Soccer is just not considered as masculine as football.

New intercultural roleplay

Here is one of the roleplay situations that my students voted on for their midterm exam: Korean woman’s and Canadian man’s first date.

I learned that in Korean culture the man generally pays for dinner on the first date while he woman buys coffee after the date. In North America while Korean style would not be considered unusual, it’s more common to go dutch (each person paying his/her share).