Discussion topics

When you can't stop buying books

People in a bookstore

Reading books is a popular hobby as you can easily while away time or just fall asleep reading one. However, it's very easy to get into the habit of buying books you don't end up reading. Interesting enough, there's a term for such a habit: tsundoku. Tsundoku is a Japanese term for people who buy a lot of books they never get around to reading. 

The Japanese word doku means "reading", and it comes from tsumu which means "to pile up". So, tsundoku refers to the practice of piling up reading material.

Quite similarly, the term Bibliomania came into the picture when Thomas Frognall Dibdin's wrote a book with the very same title. Bibliomania comes from the Greek biblio, which refers to books, and mania, "madness".

At that time, bibliomania described people who were obsessed with collecting literature, but it now refers to people who collect books on subjects they are passionate about.

Even though these two words have similar meanings, the main difference is that bibliomania focuses on creating a book collection, while tsundoku is about buying books you intend to read that end up gathering dust on the shelf.

Discussion: 
In your own words, describe the difference between "tsundoku" and "bibliomania" Do Homework
What do you think about tsundoku? Do you or anyone you know practice tsundoku? Do Homework
If you had enough money, time and space for a purposeful collection of something (anything, not just books), what would you collect? Why? Do Homework
How can someone who doesn't like reading books be motivated to read books? Do Homework

Male artists: Gustave Caillebotte

"Paris Street, Rainy Day" by Gustave Caillebotte

Gustave Caillebotte (1848–1894) was part of the French Impressionist art movement, the first school of art to break away from classical painting. Impressionism focuses on the light and colors of a particular moment in time. Because artists wanted to capture a brief moment and didn't have cameras yet, they needed to paint quickly. So they used quick, flat strokes without precise detail.

They also used colors in new ways. The best example is that shadows aren't just the object's color with gray or brown mixed in. Instead, the painters added strokes of the complementary color of the object (e.g., strokes of red in the shadow of something green). This makes the shadows come alive.

Caillebotte is best known for his use of extreme perspective. He shows city streets from above, as though looking down from a roof. Street scenes seem to disappear into the far distance. Some viewers at the time found the unusual perspective disturbing.

Since Caillebotte was born into a wealthy Parisian family, he never needed to sell his paintings and didn't produce as many as other artists. But he contributed a great deal to the Impressionist movement as a patron. He used his wealth to support other artists. He bought paintings, financed exhibits, and even paid the rent for Claude Monet's studio. At the time of his death, he had collected 68 paintings by his favorite Impressionist artists.

 

Discussion: 
Describe the picture, "Paris Street, Rainy Day", at the top of this article. Use vivid vocabulary so that someone who can't see the painting can imagine it. Do Homework
Explain how "Paris Street, Rainy Day" fits into the school of Impressionism. Do Homework
Do you know any other Impressionist painters? Who are they? Your teacher can help you. Do Homework
In earlier times, most successful artists were supported by wealthy patrons. What are the good and bad points of that? Do Homework

Spending and saving money

Placing coins in a glass jar

Money is a tool we use to achieve a goal. Different people have different strategies for what to do with money.

Some spend everything on consumer goods or recreational activities, such as enjoying a meal in a restaurant or going to a cinema. Others are in a situation where they can’t save money at all. They have to live from paycheck to paycheck. Such people are said to be living hand-to-mouth.

Other people save money for a rainy day. They can keep their money at home or in a bank. Still, other people invest their money. They invest in safe places such as properties or precious metals, or stocks of large companies. Some invest in risky places such as cryptocurrencies. They hope to gain a large return on their investments.

In Australia, for example, saving money is very important and one of the reasons for this is travel. In Japan, Kakeibo, is a budgeting method designed to help people save and spend their money wisely. This method is also popular among children. Clearly, saving money in Japan is a tradition that has been passed down through the ages.

Discussion: 
Summarize this article. Do Homework
Do you prefer to save, spend or invest money? Do Homework
Is it common to save, spend or invest money in your country? Do Homework
Do you think that children should learn the strategies of spending money at school? Why? Edit Homework

Race, ethnicity, and nationality

People putting their hands together

The words race, ethnicity and nationality are often misunderstood or even used interchangeably. They mean very different things, however.

Race refers to physical features, ethnicity points to cultural background, and nationality is all about the country you are from. In countries like Japan, the three things are closely linked. But in a place like the U.S., where people come from many different places and backgrounds, they are completely separate.

Let's look at how I fit into them.

Race

I have light-colored skin, which puts me in the Caucasian category, or White. The concept of race, however, based on the belief that physical appearance is related to a person's skills and character, has no scientific evidence. Studies show that there's no significant genetic difference between anyone in the world.

Ethnicity

My ancestry is heavily English and German, aka Anglo-Saxon, so I fit into the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (or WASP) cultural group in America. As a WASP, I speak English and belong to the Protestant branch of Christianity. I grew up going to church every Sunday. We don't have any food restrictions, but broadly speaking we don't like super spicy foods—our culture tends to have a meat and potatoes diet.

Nationality

My nationality is simple. I'm a citizen of the United States; therefore, I'm an American. In America, you are considered American if you are born here or if the United States government grants you legal citizenship.

Now that there's a clear distinction, dive deep into this topic with your teacher!

Discussion: 
Describe yourself according to the three categories. Do Homework
What do you know about your ancestors? Do Homework
Is "race" important in your country? How do people feel about it? Do Homework
What other categories do we put people in? Do Homework
What would the world be like if people weren't put into categories? Do Homework

Pet your stress away

A young woman hugging her dog

Life can be stressful. The list of responsibilities seems endless as work, children, bills and so many other things demand our constant attention. As a result, it's very easy to get lost in the jungle of a long to-do-list and end up burning out. Fortunately, studies show that pets are a good source of comfort and stress relief. 

According to Jenna Stregowski, an expert in the field, pets can improve one's mood, reduce blood pressure and provide social support, among other benefits. For those who don't really like to exercise or just need some motivation, having a pet will give you a reason to exercise. Dogs, for example, have to walk regularly. This means dog owners can exercise while walking their pets, thereby promoting stress management.

Pets can also provide companionship when it's needed. Picture this: you're working from home, sitting at your desk trying to solve a difficult work-related problem. Suddenly, your dog or cat jumps onto your lap. While this might appear to be a form of disturbance, embracing your pet increases serotonin and dopamine, which help you relax and calm down. So welcome them to your lap and your life—don't shoo them away!

Discussion: 
What is the main point of this article? Do Homework
What do you do to de-stress? Do Homework
Do you have any pets? Do you think pets can help us live a healthier life? Do Homework
Do you think it's possible to live a stress-free life? Discuss this with your teacher. Do Homework

Men artists: Naoki Onogawa

Tokyo-based artist Naoki Onogawa folds hundreds of tiny cranes (no bigger than a centimeter each) by hand, then attaches them to branching wire forms. The results look like bonsai trees—bonsai trees with birds for leaves.

Onogawa started making the sculptures after visiting the site of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. He felt terrified by our powerlessness over nature when he saw 1,000 paper cranes at the site of a ruined school building. Amazingly, he also felt "empowered by the power of life ... that shined so brightly in the aftermath" of the disaster. This inspired him to create his own art with origami cranes.

In Asian cultures, cranes symbolize long life, truth, faithfulness, and beauty. Legend has it that anyone with the patience and commitment to fold 1,000 origami cranes will be granted their deepest wish or prayer. Onogawa's tiny cranes combine the fragility of life with the power of the human spirit. In the face of terrible destruction, his sculptures are prayers for long life, truth, faithfulness and beauty.


See Naoki Onogawa's sculptures on Instagram

Discussion: 
Describe the sculpture in the image above. Use vivid vocabulary so that someone who can't see it can imagine it. Do Homework
How do the tiny cranes in Onogawa's sculptures express what he felt when visiting the site of the Great Earthquake? Do Homework
Name an artist whose art you love. What do you love about their art? Do Homework
What would the world be like without art? Do Homework

The most spoken languages worldwide

There are over 7,000 languages in the world. However, some languages are spoken by a very large number of people.

Over a billion people speak English—mainly people living in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other former English colonies. Another billion speak Mandarin. Mandarin is mostly spoken in China.

Nearly 620,000,000 people speak Hindi. It is a language found mostly in South Asian countries such as India.

Over 530,000,000 people speak Spanish, mostly in Spain and Latin America. French and Arabic are spoken by more than 400,000,000 people. French is spoken in France, Canada and France’s old colonies around the world. Arabic speakers mostly live in the Middle East and North Africa.

Discussion: 
Summarize this article. Do Homework
How many languages do you speak? Do Homework
How hard is it for you to learn a new language? Do Homework
Which language would you like to learn in the future? Why? Do Homework

How people approach deadlines

According to The New Yorker, as the last day to complete a task approaches, people respond to the pressure differently. Some, perhaps well-adjusted and diligent people, jump in, figuring that the anxiety of an unpaid bill or an unfinished project is far more painful than the difficulty of sticking to a sensible schedule. However, others live in denial until the last minute, when they bolt to the end, vowing that they’ll do it all differently next time. And still others dismiss deadlines altogether, believing them to be at best imaginary and at worst contrary to creativity.

The magazine editor Christopher Cox said that people often summon the will to do their best work when they think they’re down to the buzzer—but by then it’s too late to actually do it. It’s only by mentally manipulating themselves to act early and often that people can ever do spectacular things. Cox tells us that all his subjects “have learned how to work like it’s the last minute before the last minute.”

The New Yorker jokes: “Everywhere you look, people are either hitting deadlines or avoiding them by reading about how other people hit deadlines.”

Discussion: 
Summarize this article in your own words (2 or 3 sentences). Do Homework
How do you approach deadlines? Has it changed over time? Do you procrastinate until the last minute? Do Homework
Do you ever set arbitrary deadlines for yourself in your personal life? If so, how does this affect your mental health? Do Homework
Can great quality work be done at the last minute? Do Homework

The true power of a passport

Most organizations, such as the widely recognized Henley Passport Index, believe the strongest passports are the ones that allow their citizens to enter more countries without a visa. They rank Singapore as the most powerful passport in 2023 because it provides easy access to 194 countries.

But is this the best way to decide how strong a passport is? Global Citizen Solutions has developed a more detailed but slightly different approach. The Global Passport Index analyzes how desirable a country passport is, considering the following:

  • Mobility: The travel benefits of the passport
  • Investment and business potential: The nation’s economic growth
  • Quality of life: How happy, comfortable, and accepted people are

According to their last ranking, Germany has the strongest passport in the world now, with high scores in all categories and a much higher Quality of Life score than Singapore.

Discussion: 
Please explain the difference between the two indexes mentioned in the text. Do Homework
In your opinion, which of the two indexes quoted in the article is more valuable? Why? Do Homework
What other indicators do you think are important to measure a passport's strength? Do Homework

A Korean Disney princess

A montage of Disney princesses.

Julian Riew is a Korean-American singer and songwriter, and she studies theater at Harvard. Like many children, she was influenced by Disney princesses while growing up.

In recent years, Disney has made conscious efforts to become more inclusive. Racial and ethnic representation have gained presence in their movies lately. However, Julia felt no Disney princess looked like her so she set herself up for a challenge: to create a Disney-inspired Korean princess.

Watch her interview about her musical featuring Korean-American heritage and have a discussion with your teacher: https://www.youtube.com/embed/QpaSVUKQlXg

 

Discussion: 
What is Julia studying at university? What's her senior thesis about? Do Homework
What inspired Julia to write her musical? Do Homework
Do you think representation is important in movies? Why? Do Homework

Visuals: Alcohol by country

Different cultures have different relationships with alcohol. For instance, Italians tend to drink a lot of wine but have a very low level of alcoholism, as they usually drink a couple of glasses with lunch and dinner. However, Russians are known for drinking copious amounts of vodka, and nearly 15% of deaths in Russia are related to alcohol consumption.

In the East, South Koreans are known for signing business deals in bars and then drinking with each other under the table, while Vietnamese love their Bia Hoi (beer halls), where they spend most of their evenings drinking beer after beer with their friends.

Please take a look at the map below and discuss it with your teacher. Click on the “continue reading” link for an interactive version of the map.

Discussion: 
Give a presentation of this map to your teacher. Focus on your country in relation to other countries. Do Homework
Are you surprised at any areas of the map? Do Homework
Describe your culture’s relationship to alcohol. Edit Homework
Do you think drinking alcohol should have an age limit? Why or why not? Do Homework

The importance of smartphones

Smartphones are everywhere. People use them in rich countries and poor countries. Sometimes very poor people have smartphones, even when they live in slums. I think that most people understand how important smartphones can be. For example, some taxi drivers would have less business without a smartphone. This is because they can find riders through an app and make more money than just looking for customers on the street.

Phones have changed a lot in the last 20 years. I remember when you could only make calls on cellphones. Now, you can take free classes from top universities. You can record a video, edit it and upload it to social media.  

There are many apps available—over 2.8 million are available for download on the Google Play Store. Apple's App store has more than 1.8 million. Some people use these apps a lot. Research shows that 20% of millennials open an app more than 50 times per day. In general, most people use 10 apps each day.

Discussion: 
Summarize this article. Do Homework
How much time do you usually spend on your smartphone each day? What do you usually use it for? Do Homework
How have smartphones changed our lives? Do Homework

Artist Takashi Murakami and AI

Japanese artist Takashi Murakami has always taken risks with his art. He blends traditional and contemporary styles to create wildly colorful pop art. He is often compared to Andy Warhol, the famous American pop artist.

Murakami has always embraced new technologies, like NFTs and cryptocurrency. So he isn't afraid of AI-generated art. But he does see the harmful effect it might have on artists. In his words:

AI will certainly do damage to technical trades, but I don’t think it will be able to block our ideas. The wackiest ideas, those that even AI cannot generate, will become even more valuable.

He compares it to the Apple II computer, when it came out in the 1980s. The Apple II was able to do a lot of the work that graphic designers had done by hand. But, according to Murakami, it "swept away an older generation of design professionals, but empowered those who embraced it."


To read more about AI and art, see "Is art created by A.I. really art?"

Discussion: 
How does Takashi Murakami feel about AI-generated art? Do Homework
What does "embrace" mean in this context? What technologies have you embraced? Do Homework
Can you think of other new technologies that have disrupted the art world? Do Homework
Is AI-generated art really art? Do Homework

City of festivals

Melbourne, Australia—where I live— is a city of festivals. Every year there are arts, music, film, food, beer, wine, and cultural festivals. For example, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Street Food Festival, and Autumn Festivals. There's always something to look forward to in my city.

There are so many festivals, some of the names are almost the same. We have a Jazz Festival and a Mussel and Jazz Festival. The good part about these two festivals is that one has international jazz musicians and the other one has local jazz musicians, so attending both allows one to have different experiences.

In my opinion, such events give us the opportunity to spend time with family and friends. We also get the chance to take a break from the routine of the week by being outdoors, listening to some music and eating good food. 
 

Discussion: 
Summarize the last paragraph. What points does the writer make? Do Homework
What festivals have you enjoyed going to? Do Homework
In your opinion, are festivals important? Why or why not? Do Homework

Changing the role of the police

Black Lives Matter Protest, Seattle WA

As the Black Lives Matter movement continues to advocate for change, one of the many calls has been to redefine the role of the police in the U.S. Excessive use of force by officers has sparked criticism, leading to calls for alternative methods. Several proposals have started to emerge and be implemented in response.

Most of these alternatives are focused on ways to restructure public safety by reducing the scope of situations in which the police are automatically in charge. One suggestion is to train specialized nonviolent officers to handle nonviolent issues, such as conflicts on the road. Unarmed traffic police officers could receive conflict resolution training to address these situations. By emphasizing peaceful resolutions, encounters can be de-escalated.

Another idea is to involve mental health workers in responding to mental health concerns within the community. Dispatching trained professionals to incidents involving individuals in crisis can prioritize understanding and support, reducing the likelihood of confrontations. Additionally, exploring community mediators has gained traction. An example of this is CAHOOTS. They specialize in facilitating dialogue and resolving disputes within the local community, fostering harmony and mutual understanding.

Discussion: 
This article mentions a few ideas for police reform—what are they? Do Homework
What's your relationship with police—have your interactions been positive, negative or neutral? Do Homework
What's the ideal role of the police? Do Homework
In your opinion, what can be done to ensure the police play their role in society? Do Homework

The evolution of video games

Video games have changed a lot in the last 30 years. In the 1990s, Nintendo's Super Mario Brothers looked very high-tech.

In 2001, Halo: Combat Evolved was released. It was the first game where a player could explore a limited 3D map. The engine also allowed the player to have different experiences. For example, the enemies acted differently every time you played the same map.

Since then, video games have become even more complex. Skyrim (2011) lets gamers play freely in a huge, beautiful world. The design and detail are fantastic. One of the most popular releases this year is Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. This game has an open scenario with a linear story at the same time. Also, it offers a large dungeon-like map. It has three different layers of adventure: the Depths, the Surface and the Sky.

It's hard to imagine how video games will change in the next 30 years!

Discussion: 
Have you played any of the games mentioned in the article? If not, which one would you like to play? Do Homework
Have you ever played games on a virtual reality set? If so, describe the experience. Do Homework
How do you think video games will change in the future? Do Homework

Visuals: Obesity around the world

Obesity is a growing problem around the world.

Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of over 30. BMI is used to determine whether you are in a healthy weight range for your height. For instance, a person who is 180cm (5ft 11in) and 97kg (213lb) has a BMI of 29.7. 

The rate of obesity varies greatly around the world. Please have a look at the map below and discuss what you see with your teacher.

Discussion: 
Which parts of the world have the lowest obesity rate? Which have the highest? Do Homework
How does your country’s obesity rate compare to that of its neighbours? Do Homework
Are you surprised by any country’s or region’s obesity rate? Do Homework
What can be done to deal with the growing problem of obesity around the world? Edit Homework

AI's impact on the movie industry

Futuristic computer graphic of glowing human face

The film industry is grappling with concerns about the future in light of the rapid advancements of AI technology. When questioned about these potential effects, ChatGPT emphasizes how AI can assist humans, making tasks like scriptwriting, special effects, and audience analysis faster and more effective. It highlights that AI is a tool without any sinister plans to take over the world.

Conversely, the perspectives of human interviewees paint a somewhat gloomier picture of the future. Their biggest fear is that their creative work will soon be replaced and go unrecognized. The ability to synthesize voices and digitally alter faces through visual effects is already a reality. In fact, this technology was utilized to de-age Harrison Ford in the latest Indiana Jones movie, and AI has replicated James Earl Jones' iconic Darth Vader voice for the upcoming Star Wars series.

Even though this sounds scary, some industry leaders remain skeptical, believing that AI technology lacks certain human qualities necessary to create an exceptional screenplay. AI is also being compared to other significant revolutions throughout human history, such as the agricultural, industrial, and internet revolutions. It is seen as an inevitable and necessary development for humankind. After all, humans have always demonstrated the ability to adapt, haven't we?

Discussion: 
What benefits and drawbacks does the article mention about AI’s impact on the movie industry? Do Homework
Do you believe AI technology poses a threat in your line of work? Do Homework
Are there any areas where human creativity is irreplaceable? Do Homework
Is AI in the film industry a positive development or a threat to human creativity? Do Homework

Do you know how to rest?

Our society has taught people to always work hard. People are learning how to be more productive, but they also have the idea that they should always be busy. These people think "busy" and "productive" are the same thing. When these people finally rest, they feel bad. They think they are lazy. They might even work until they break down from tiredness.

American psychotherapist Sarah McLaughlin says 70% of visits to the doctor are because of stress-related issues. She suggests we start taking care of ourselves as much as we try to complete tasks. She says that we need to think more realistically about ourselves, “If this task does not get done today, it does not mean I have failed. It just means that I will get to it tomorrow.” Here are some pieces of advice from two psychotherapists, McLaughlin and Pantha Saidipour, on how to forget about work before resting:

  • Practice acceptance. Remind yourself you are not a robot, and you can’t just keep going perfectly.
  • Allow yourself to rest. Tell yourself that you have worked hard, and you are going to rest now. Take a few deep breaths, focus on them and clear your mind of work.
  • Notice what is around. Notice the chair you are sitting on, the smells, the sounds.
  • Focus on yourself. Think of what gives you pleasure. For example, cooking, reading, or playing sports. Make sure to find time during your week to do these activities.

We certainly all need a break!

 

Discussion: 
Please summarise the article. Do Homework
The article says "busy" and "productive" are not the same thing. Do you agree? Edit Homework
What do you find relaxing? Do Homework
How do you know when you are not well-rested? Do Homework
What would the world be like if no one had to work to survive? Do Homework

J. J. Abrams & the Mystery Box

J.J. Abrams has created many action and sci-fi films and TV series. A few of the best-known are Star Wars, Mission Impossible III; and the TV show, Lost. Abrams loved magic when he was a boy. He once bought a Magic Mystery Box. For $15, he got $50 worth of magic. He carried the box everywhere he went, but he never opened it. Why not? He finally realized that it was the mystery that was so special. Not knowing what's in the box allowed him to imagine it. Mystery inspires imagination. So the box helped him use his imagination.

Abrams sees today's technology as part of the magic. Without special effects, he couldn't bring his stories to life.

In math terms, you could say:

Mystery + imagination + technology = magic!

For Abrams, magic exists wherever there is mystery. And technology can help us see it.

Discussion: 
Why is "mystery" important to J.J. Abrams? Do Homework
Would you buy a mystery box? What do you think would be inside? Do Homework
If you could write a sci-fi film, what would it be about? Do Homework