For most of the past decade, Marc Helgesen taught a “Positive Psychology in ELT” course in the MA TESOL program at the Nagoya University of Foreign Studies. After the course, students are encouraged to use and develop activities in their own classes. What follows are a few examples of things they have done.
News Sharing with Wow!
Students find an exciting news item from a website, called “Nature Briefing.” They use a report sheet (accessible from here) to fill in the six pieces of information about the news item, which helps them to answer the questions their partners will ask them in class. They expect their partners to respond positively, using rejoinders such as “Wow!”
The title of an example news story we will share is: “Gay penguin couple kidnap chicks” (also reported by NBC news). While students were searching in “Nature Briefing,” one of them found an article on bisexuality in animals. She prepared for news sharing using the first row of the report sheet.
Language Focus: combination of four skills (reading a news story, writing a summary, speaking, and listening to the news), rejoinders (in this case, positive responses) for fluency
Positive Psychology Focus: physical movement (students stand and interact with partners), react with rejoinders, appreciate the wonders of nature
Age: teenagers and up
Time: Day 1: 5-7 minutes, Day 2: 6-10 minutes
Preparation: a. Make copies of the “Weekly News Report Sheet and the “Fun News Question and Reaction” sheet (both available here).
- b. Fill in the report sheet with a sample news
Procedure: Day 1
- Show the Sample News Report Sheet.
- Give out the Q&R sheet and have students read out each of the questions. The teacher answers from the sample report sheet. Encourage the students to react to the answers with the rejoinders on the Q&R sheet. I am sure many students will laugh out loud.
- Homework: Students search for an interesting news item from “Nature Briefing” and fill in the Report Sheet.
- Start the class by having students stand up and greet each other with news sharing, starting from “Hi, what is your news title?” from the Q&R sheet.
- Students exchange their news for 3-5 minutes. They change pairs and repeat the exchange for another 3-5 minutes, since neurons can learn to respond to a repeated pattern.
- They thank each other and take a seat.
- Teacher asks the class if there was any exciting news worth sharing.
- If yes, have the pair repeat the Q&R in front of the class. We all react to each answer using the rejoinders😊.
Follow-up/ variation/ notes:
- Teacher can encourage students to search for relevant news by demonstrating the connections on the news report sheet, e.g., news about gay penguin couples kidnapping chicks. Students use the second row of the report sheet, as in the third download on this page, (for related news) as they expand the search. In fact, students found similar cases in New York (in 2017) and in Berlin (2019), as shown in the third row.
- The fact that gay couples are often found in nature can be addressed in the class to support thinking about LGBTQ.
- Rejoinders such as: Wow, I see, Amazing, Too bad, Really?, Oh, (repeat the information), Great, and OK, will often make the conversation active with laughter.
Megumi M Yoshieda is amazed by the wonders of nature. She is happy to share the daily “Nature Briefing” with her science major students who are at first overwhelmed by scientific journals, at Nagoya City University, Japan. Through news sharing, they start to relax, and get excited in talking about fresh news in English with laughter. In January 2020, her class joined the vote for the name of a new Mars rover on NASA’s official web page.
Studies associating improved academic outcomes with Positive Psychology interventions have also found significant links between mindfulness education and learners’ resilience and life satisfaction, reduced anxiety in adolescents, and improved conflict resolution skills (Foody & Samara, 2018; Huppert & Johnson, 2010; Jennings & Jennings, 2013). Put simply, mindfulness training raises learners’ awareness of affective strategies that help them to understand their emotions and to manage them successfully.
Introducing mindfulness to the uninitiated may be daunting, particularly if the teacher is inexperienced; inviting young learners to “notice the way they breathe” may be somewhat abstract for the language learning classroom. This short activity, ideal for a warm-up, energy break, or cool-down, introduces mindfulness in an accessible way, using concrete terms familiar to intermediate learners. The activity’s emphasis on hearing provides a simple approach to “experience the present moment” while laying a foundation for activities engaging multiple senses or simple meditation.
Language Focus: Modal auxiliary verbs (I could…)
Positive Psychology Focus: Mindfulness
Preparation: Setup will depend greatly on the age of the learners. Younger learners may enjoy warming up with a discussion about their favorite super heroes: “What kind of superpowers would you like to have?” Following this, the teacher might introduce the activity with a demonstration, acting out and describing the moment they realized they themselves had “super hearing,” before inviting learners to try it themselves. Ideally, this activity is conducted in a space with some ambient sound but free of noisy distractions.
“I was sitting quietly in a chair in my garden. It was a peaceful evening. I closed my eyes. I was relaxed. I couldn’t see anything. Everything was silent–no sound. At first, I couldn’t hear anything. But–as I focused on my ears, I realized I could hear sounds that I didn’t notice before. I discovered my super hearing. I could hear a bird singing. I could hear wind in the trees. I could hear the sound of my neighbor washing dishes…”
- Led by the instructor, learners sit comfortably in their chairs.
- Participants close their eyes, place their hands comfortably in their laps.
- For 2-3 minutes, participants are invited to bring their attention only to their hearing. For young learners, a shorter period inviting them to “count how many different sounds you can hear” may be helpful for maintaining focus.
- In pairs, students are invited to discuss the different sounds they were able to hear. The teacher may provide an example of the target structure: “I could hear a dog barking.”
- As a class, pairs report the number of sounds they were able to hear. Teachers may repeat the activity at a later time to illustrate that “super-hearing” improves with practice.
Follow-up/ variation/ notes: If further mindfulness training is the goal, this activity provides the groundwork. Other “super-senses” may be explored; learners may select textured items to hand to a blindfolded partner to help them develop “super-touch.” Learners can “mindfully” eat a berry or piece of chocolate. Likewise, for more advanced learners, activities such as this may provide an introduction to mindful breathing and meditation.
Foody, M. & Samara, M. (2018). Considering mindfulness techniques in school-based anti-bullying programmes. Journal of New Approaches in Educational Research, 7(1), 3-9.
Huppert, F. & Johnson, D. (2010). A controlled trial of mindfulness training in schools: The importance of practice for an impact on well-being. Journal of Positive Psychology, 5(4), 264-274.
Jennings, S. & Jennings, J. (2013). Peer-directed, brief mindfulness training with adolescents: A pilot study. International Journal of Behavioural Consultation and Therapy, 8(2), 23-25.
Jason R. Walters is a full-time lecturer at Nagoya University of Foreign Studies, and has lived in central Japan since 2009. His primary research interests include native speaker-ism in Asian EFL education, learner autonomy and self-access learning, and practical applications of Positive Psychology in the language classroom. <[email protected]>
This is an activity for students to learn about each other with a simple, listening-repeating task about their personal information. As well as talking about themselves, students focus on listening to their partners and repeating the information, then sharing it by introducing their partners to others.
Language Focus: introductions, listening, repeating, subject-verb agreement
Positive Psychology Focus: Positive Emotions, Relationships
- Ask the students to prepare a short self-introduction, including names and something a little personal, such as things they like or a good experience.
- In pairs, they give self-introductions to each other. They need to listen very carefully to their partner and repeat what he/she said with the appropriate subject form: you.
Ex. A: I am Yuki. I like hamburgers, cats, and playing soccer.
B: You are Yuki. You like hamburgers, cats, and playing soccer.
- Put two pairs together to make a group of four. Have the students introduce their partners to the other pair. (Let them think about appropriate forms of subject they should use: he/she.) Encourage them to listen carefully again.
Ex. B: This is Yuki. He likes hamburgers, cats, and playing soccer.
- Choose a leader for each group randomly. The leader now introduces all the members of his/her group to the whole class. (The introductions can be shorter here, like the names and just one thing each member likes.) If the students are Advanced and comfortable enough, have the leaders give a little summary at first, before the individual introductions.
Ex. The leader: We are animal lovers. We all like some kinds of animals.
This is Yuki, and this is Ayaka. They both like cats. And this is Sho, he likes dogs. I am Mao, I like rabbits.
Follow-up / variation / notes:
By working on a careful listening/repeating task, students get extra-motivated to learn about others, and feel more responsible for speaking clearly. Also, sharing the information about others with the class could make their understanding of the information they have learned even deeper.
Instead of the introductions, they could talk about different topics, which should be something fun to think about, such as their future dreams or favorite vacations. Also, with the information from the introduction, teachers could give some quizzes about classmates, or build groups based on the same interests.
Eriko Mishima is a language instructor, currently teaching at Chubu University. She has an M.Ed. in Cultural Studies from Ohio University, USA, and has been teaching English at a variety of levels for over 10 years. She also has been working on her MA TESOL now at Nagoya University of Foreign Studies.
The Most Delicious Food I’ve Ever Had! (Human Slide Show)
Language Focus: Past tenses
Positive Psychology Focus: Remembering good things
Age: Teenagers and up
Preparation: (Optional) One copy of Tasksheet
- Think of the most delicious food that you have ever had. For Elementary and Intermediate students, they will write this down on tasksheets for preparation. For Advanced students, a teacher gives them some time (maybe three minutes or so) to prepare for the presentation.
- Divide the class into groups of 4 or 5. The teacher explains the activity “Human Slide Show.” One will be a presenter who tells his/her story and the others form a human slide, which a still image, following the presentation.
Presenter: “Let me tell you about the most delicious food I have ever had. When I was a junior high school student, I went to Okinawa with my family, click.”
“Click” is the cue for the other students make a still image in a few seconds.
One student may be the father, another the mother, or even the strong sun of Okinawa or fish in the sea.
Presenter: “After we enjoyed swimming in the sea, we were hungry and found a Japanese restaurant on the beach, click.”
Some of the other students look hungry; some look happy to find a restaurant; one student may be a waitress waiter to welcome them.
- The presentation should include:
- What is the name of the food or the dish?
- Where did you eat it?
- When did you eat it?
- Who did you eat the food with?
- How did it taste?
- What was the color, texture, flavor?
- How did you feel when you were eating it?
- Any other comments or information about the food
1.“The Most Beautiful Scenery I’ve Seen” “The Happiest Birthday Party I Have Ever Had” “The Most Memorable Trip I have Ever Had” “The Present that Made me the Happiest” are possible topics for this activity. Think of many more!
- After the presentation, students can reproduce the story by looking at the human slides again without listening to the presentation.
- The students (human slides) can make a short scene (about 10 seconds) from the still images.
My sister: This is yummy! Taste it!
Me: Good! This shellfish is big!”
Mother: Eat slowly, kids!
- Connecting the short scenes above, students can make a drama titled the most delicious food I have ever had.
- Hot seating: After performing the drama, the audience asks some questions to the students who acted out the story. The students can answer the questions in character.
Q: Why did you take them to the sea? (To the student who played the uncle)
Uncle: Because I wanted to show them the beautiful sea and make them experience fishing from a boat.
Some students are very shy about being in front of peers and do not want to form a human slide. In this case, do not push them to do so. Instead of human slides, students can draw pictures (easy ones) in 20 seconds like manga. After the presentation, students can reproduce the story by looking at the pictures.
Paper theatre (kamishibai, in Japanese) is also a good option for students who like drawing.
Masami Maeda is a high school teacher who graduated from the MA TESOL program at Teachers’ College, Columbia University in Tokyo, where Marc Helgesen taught. Since she met Marc, she has been inspired to introduce happiness to her English classroom. Her interests are Positive Psychology, culture, and drama in language learning.