Critical thinking skills are fundamental for setting up ESL students for future success.
It’s important for them to have opportunities to develop skills such as giving opinions, providing supporting evidence, debating ideas including rebuttal, negotiating, compromising and coming to conclusions.
These are skills that are necessary to be able to communicate with native speakers on an equal language level – so TESOL teachers should provide a learning environment where ESL students can practice inside the classroom to prepare for life outside the classroom.
Activity 1 – Stockland Court Case
Below there are two articles written on the same topic. The most obvious question to ask about them is, ‘Why is Text 2 shorter?’ Of course, it’s easy to see that it has less vocabulary. But what kind of vocabulary is it lacking?
The first vocabulary difference is that in Text 1, the first word is ‘struggling.’ The writer didn’t include this adjective by accident. He’s trying to create sympathy for Stanway by implying the property developer is up against forces more potent than itself.
Note the next difference. Text 1 uses the phrase ‘shot down’, whereas Text 2 uses ‘lost.’ The expression ‘shot down’ originally came from World War I where airplanes or balloons were fired on in order to destroy them immediately or force them to crash.
This concept of destruction is powerful and highly negative, whereas ‘lost’ is a far more neutral word.
Why use this kind of evocative vocabulary? This question leads us to the difference between subjective and objective writing.
Subjective information is based on personal opinions, whereas objective writing is based on factual evidence. As you read through Text 1, you can see that the writer has a clear bias – and he’s trying to persuade readers to agree with his point of view.
Most people, if they see a dispute between a 63-year-old aboriginal man and a property developer, would instinctively side with the man. It’s easy to see that man as an underdog up against a bullying adversary, and therefore worthy of our support.
However, the writer of Text 1 is trying to flip our natural inclination. He wants us to see the 63-year-old aboriginal man as the ‘bad guy’ and the property developer as deserving of our sympathy.
Ask your ESL students to get into pairs or small groups, find all the vocabulary differences in the two texts, and discuss how these differences affect meaning. You can get them to finish off by debating about which article they are more inclined to believe and why.
Activity 2 – Mysteries
I’ve found that it’s always good for English Language Teachers to bring humour into the classroom when you can – and this activity (see below) is a sure-fire way to get your ESL students laughing and smiling.
One important point – while students should be encouraged to have fun with this, no student should be embarrassed or humiliated in the process. Make this an important rule, and make sure it’s enforced.
Like with Activity 1, ask your students to get into pairs or small groups. Encourage every member in each group to come up with their own explanation to solve the mysteries.
For each of the ten mysteries outlined, there are an infinite number of possibilities. So, each team will need to choose their best explanation for each mystery. After the discussion time, you could get each team to give a report – to share their chosen explanations with the rest of the class.
For Mystery 1 – Someone sent him/her a present, but there was no card – your students should answer all the WH questions (and to do this for all the other mysteries as well):
Who: Who sent the present?
What: What was the present?
Why: Why was the present sent and why was there no card?
Where: Where did the student receive the present? Where did it come from?
When: When did the student receive the present? When was it sent?
How: How was it delivered?
Once students have answers to these questions, they are then able to construct a story. But the students must ensure that all story elements can be linked, and that there are no gaps or inconsistencies in their storyline.
Imagine that the following situations happened to one of your classmates. Explain the mysteries with sentences that start with maybe, perhaps, or probably.
1. Someone sent him/her a present, but there was no card.
2. The phone rang, but no one was there.
3. People were laughing at him/her all day yesterday and he/she didn’t know why.
4. A group of people suddenly surrounded him/her and his/her friend and began jumping up and
5. The TV turned off even though he/she didn’t touch the remote.
6. Last summer, he/she and his/her friends were camping in the mountains. Suddenly, he/she saw
7. There was a strange buzzing and a weird humming in his/her room last night.
8. He/she was walking downtown last Saturday when suddenly there was a strange sickly odour.
9. A famous movie star mentions his/her name in an interview.
10. An expensive car was following him/her all day yesterday.