Tuesday, October 02, 2007

TED talks and teaching discursive writing

Whilst surfing over at the TED Talks site I came across this video - Steve Pinker - The Myth of Violence. It's basic premise being that society has become less, rather than more violent with the passage of time. An interesting, if counter - intuitive idea. This got me thinking about how he presented his argument and what lessons could be learnt by my advanced ESL/EFL students who have to produce discursive essays as part of their examinations, albeit in a more simplified form.

An mp3 audio file of this talk can be downloaded from here.

Lesson plan

1 Ask students if they think the world is getting more or less violent. Then get them to think of three reasons or examples that support their argument.

2 Students then present them to each other, and then you elicit answers from the class as a whole. Odds on they'll say that the modern is more violent than ever.

3 Now tell the students that they are going to hear a talk by Steven Pinker that argues the opposite and that they are going to analyse both what he says and how he presents it.

4 Luckily, the video is divided into different sections. First play the introduction (28 secs till 2 mins 10 secs.) and ask students to describe how he introduces the subject.

5 Students listen then form groups to compare answers.

6 Elicit responses and ask students to think about why he choose this particular approach.

7 Next explain to them that in the next section(s) - 2 mins 10 secs to 9 mins 30 secs he gives shows us how much violence has declined. What evidence does he give? How would we characterise such evidence? Statistical ? Literary? Expert opinion? Play the video.

8 Students discuss their answers with each other in groups. Elicit answers.

9 Next Pinker asks a rhetorical question. What is it? What evidence does he give to support his answer? What kind of evidence does he give? Play the video - 9 mins 30 secs to 17 mins 30 secs.

10 Students discuss their answers. Elicit answers.

11 Now explain that Pinker is going to come to a conclusion. Ask students what that might be.
Students discuss this in groups. Elicit answers.

12 Play last section 17 mins 30 secs to 18 mins 15 secs. What is his conclusion?

13 Students discuss answers in groups. Elicit answers.

14 Ask students if they agree with Pinker. Why? Why not?

15 Homework - Write out and essay plan for Pinker's argument and decide think of possible weaknesses in it.

16 In the next lesson students compare plans and critiques and then work together to create their own essay plan arguing the opposite point of view which they write up for homework.

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