Discussion topics

Create a strong team with music

An important study showed that members of a team who listened to rhythmic music together before carrying out a task worked more cooperatively and efficiently than groups who listened to music without a clear beat. People who listened to white noise did the worst. Why is that?

Brain studies have shown that music releases endorphins and dopamine. These neurochemicals cause us to feel pleasure and closeness to others. So when we listen to music together, we naturally feel closer to each other. Playing music together has an even stronger effect. And dancing together to rhythmic music creates the strongest bond of all.

Beyond common closeness, music is also a very effective way to draw large groups of people together into a tightly bonded unit. That's why schools have official songs, and countries have national anthems. When you sing that particular song together, you immediately feel a strong connection to the group.

For these reasons, many presenters at group events give the audience a chance to sing together, or move their bodies in a coordinated way, even just by clapping rhythmically. And rhythmic songs have long been used by spiritual and political leaders to create a sense of belonging and inspire people to action.

So keep music in your toolbox for those times when you need to bring a new team together, or make an existing group more cooperative and effective.

Summarize the article in 2–3 sentences. Do Homework
Describe a time when music made you feel connected with others. Was it at a concert? A wedding reception? Graduation? An international sporting event? Do Homework
Does your company use music to help bring people together? How? If not, how do you think it could be used? Do Homework
What is your country's national anthem? When is it sung? How do people act when they sing it together? Do Homework
Give some ideas for using music to improve cooperation among nations. Do Homework

Visuals: Cats, dogs or other pets?

The battle between cat and dog lovers is well-known. Some people love dogs. They say that dogs are friendly, loyal and active. Other people prefer cats. According to cat lovers, cats are independent, lower maintenance and cute. Some people choose very different pets, such as fish, birds, or rodents (e.g. rats, mice, guinea pigs).

Please have a look at the graph below. Discuss it with your teacher. 

Present this graph to your teacher. Do Homework
Do you agree with the graph about your country? Do Homework
Have you ever had a pet? Do Homework
Do you think it is good for children to have pets? Do Homework
Why do you think there are differences in pet ownership across countries? Do Homework

How to avoid news anxiety

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is fear and/or panic about an uncertain outcome. It usually appears when you are experiencing a stressful situation. Physical symptoms include a racing heart, sweating more than usual, rushed breathing, and having trouble sleeping. Psychological symptoms include feeling helpless or overwhelmed.

It is normal to experience anxiety from time to time, but if such feelings are interrupting your life, you might need to take action. 

Sometimes the news can cause such feelings. It's commonly known as news anxiety

How can you ease news anxiety?

  1. Limiting exposure to news can help. Only check the news during specific times you have assigned for checking it. 
  2. Read news only from reputable sites. Don't use social media to get your news.
  3. Don’t ignore your feelings. Talk to the people you trust.
  4. Remember, negative stories attract more attention than positive ones, so they are usually promoted. Reality might not be that bleak.
  5. Take breaks. You don’t have to be aware of everything that is going on. 

At the end of the day, it's important to know what's happening in the world. But you should focus on your world and what effect you can have on it. 

Do you tend to stay calm in stressful situations or do they cause anxiety? Do Homework
How does the news and social media impact your life? What about the society you live in? Do Homework
Do you think that parents should control what children read on the internet and social media? Do Homework
Do you have any advice on how to stay calm in a stressful situation? Do Homework

Cook to learn English

English is a tool you can use to do many things. Since English is a global language, you can use it to learn things from different cultures.

A fun way to learn English is cooking. You have to know how to talk about the ingredients, measurements, textures, times and flavor descriptions, and explain the process. And, if you teach cooking in English, your pronunciation needs to be clear enough for others to understand.

Accordingly, in 2015, two English language teachers in Manchester, UK, set up a program called Heart and Parcel. Karolina Koscien and Clare Courtney gather immigrant women together to cook dumplings. Why dumplings? Because "parceled foods" are universal to all cultures. Women from different countries can all come together with their recipes and share their unique histories with each other. Besides language learning, social connections are formed that help the women thrive in their new home.

The program has been a huge success, growing from 33 learners in 2015 to more than 1000 in 2023. They have Supper Clubs open to the public that always sell out. They sell their foods at markets. They've also published a cookbook that includes recipes and stories about the foods and the women who make them. All profits from these ventures go right back into the school so that it too can thrive.

What do you think about learning how to cook in English? Would it be a good way to practice for you? Do Homework
Describe parceled food in detail. Have you ever made parceled food? Do Homework
Are there particular parceled foods that tend to be associated with your culture? Do Homework
Have you ever cooked with other people? How is it different from cooking alone? Do Homework

A most interesting host

On a trip to Kathmandu, Nepal, my friend and I had a great conversation with an incredibly interesting AirBnB host. Over a few beers, he explained how he became a host after retiring from the national police force, where he was the Chief Superintendent.

Clearly captivated by this, my friend and I asked him to talk more about his past experiences. He talked about his time in Bosnia, Sudan and Iraq as part of a UN Peacekeeping force in the 1990s. Having grown up only knowing Baghdad as one of the most dangerous places on earth, I was fascinated by his recounting of the city as a safe cultural oasis back then.

Our host’s colourful past did not end there. He was part of the security force that oversaw the protection of the royal family in Nepal at the turn of the millennium. He was on duty when Crown Prince Dipendra opened fire on his family, killing the King, 11 other members of the royal line, and then himself. He explained that according to Nepali custom, commoners could not subdue royalty, and so the Crown Prince was not stopped during the massacre. In the end, Nepal transitioned to a democracy.

Our host was easily one of the most interesting people I've ever met.

Please summarize this story in 3 sentences. Do Homework
Have you ever stayed with an interesting host? Please explain what was interesting about them. Do Homework
When traveling, what type of places do you like to stay in? Are you most comfortable in hotels, bed and breakfasts, or hostels? Do Homework
Do you prefer relaxing during your vacations or do you go on energy-intensive adventures? Do Homework

Embracing change

Humans find it difficult to adapt to change and this is evident in how technological advances are viewed. This is nothing new because even Socrates, the architect of Western philosophy, wasn't too excited about the introduction of writing, as he felt people would become more forgetful.

It may be natural to fear change, but we have to realize that by nurturing this kind of fear, we are resisting innovations that could improve our quality of life, productivity and connectivity. 

The fear of technological change shows a lack of trust. As it stands, Americans don’t trust each other, our corporations or our public institutions. The absence of trust means a lot of damage has been done and the only way to fix this is to ensure everyone has the information that is essential to building trust back up.

We need to accept the mentality of change if we are going to grow as a society, and a key step in this process is making sure everyone is well-informed. This responsibility lies with each individual, company, and institution.

How do you think people felt about automobiles when they first appeared? Would someone who'd only traveled by horse and buggy trust a machine that could go at a much higher speed? Do Homework
Can you think of other technological breakthroughs in the 19th and 20th centuries? How might people have reacted to them? Do Homework
What are some technological breakthroughs in your own country's history that changed the way people lived? Imagine how people felt about them. Do Homework
What can we do to help build trust in new technologies today? Do Homework

Perpetual stew

Do you like to eat leftovers? At Wattana Panich bistro in Bangkok, you can have a bowl of soup that's been in the pot for almost 50 years. Known as neua tune, it follows the "perpetual stew" method of preparation: the leftovers at the end of each day are kept overnight to become the base for the next day's soup. 

Cultures all across the world have versions of perpetual stew. In France, it's called pot-au-feu, or "pot in the fire", for the way it was traditionally cooked—in a pot that hung over the hearth fire all day. Other cultures' versions of perpetual stew include Chinese master stock, Mongolian Firepot, and Olla Podrida (literally, "rotten pot") in Spain. In the U.S., we have "hunter's stew", and the wonderfully named "Skilligalee" of pioneer times.

Modern home cooks use slow cookers—electric pots that you can start in the morning and leave on low all day (or overnight)—to make big batches of soups and stews. Then you can eat the leftovers for the next day or two, or four... 

Does your country have a version of "perpetual stew"? Can you describe it? Do Homework
Why do you think cultures across the world have "perpetual stew"? What are the advantages of this kind of cooking? Do Homework
How do you feel about leftovers? Do Homework

Japan has the oldest companies

Japan has more old companies than any other developed nation. A study of 41 countries shows Japan has more than half of the companies older than 200 years. As a matter of fact, the oldest company still in existence is Kongō Gumi Co., Ltd., founded in 578 A.D. It was in operation under its own name until 2006, when it became a subsidiary of Takamatsu Construction Group

According to David E. Weinstein, an expert on the Japanese economy, business failures are as common in Japan as anywhere else, but the importance of tradition keeps the companies on their feet.

To ensure survival, a popular custom in Japanese family businesses is to adopt heirs outside the family, such as in-laws and talented male workers. As stated by Weinstein, "It's the name that is continuing, people get attached to the names."

While many parts of the world prioritize profit maximisation, Japanese companies focus on building and passing on a legacy to future generations.

What examples of old companies can you think of? Edit Homework
Do you agree that tradition and attachment to names can help a company in Japan survive? Do Homework
What other reasons could explain the longevity of Japanese companies? Do Homework
What can companies around the world do to become more sustainable? Do Homework

Visuals: Threat of extinction

Over 900 animal species have gone extinct since the year 1500, and many more are threatened with extinction.

Extinction means that an entire animal species dies. For instance, the Dodo bird, a flightless bird that used to live on the island of Mauritius, went extinct in the 18th century because of overhunting by humans.

Please have a look at the graph below and discuss what you see with your teacher.

In your opinion, why are some types of animals more at risk of extinction than others? Do Homework
What sorts of human activity have quickened the risk of extinctions in the past 500 years? Do Homework
What are some of the consequences of animal species going extinct? What are some consequences for ecosystems and humans? Do Homework
Can you think of any ways to slow the threat of extinction? Do Homework

Where art and science meet

When you hear the word "artist", you might not think at first of the person who drew the pictures in your science textbook, or created images of the coronavirus during the pandemic. But medical and scientific illustrators are definitely artists. The job requires equal amounts of scientific research and artistic skill. Just look at works by Cynthia Turner, or Bryan Christie. They're gorgeous enough to frame and hang on your wall.

Medical illustrations not only have to communicate complex information in visual form, but they also have to reach a specific audience. Does it need to be simple enough for the average person to understand, or detailed enough for medical students and professionals? And what colors should the artist choose? For example, some artists chose to use reds and oranges to show the dangerous nature of the coronavirus, while others decided on blues, greens and purples to attract people's attention without scaring them too much.

Medical illustrators prove that art and science aren't mutually exclusive but can work together in harmony to teach more than either could alone.

Summarize this article in 2–3 sentences. Do Homework
What do you think of medical and scientific illustrations? Are they art? Do Homework
Are there any aspects of your job that you would call artistic? Edit Homework
What is "art"? Do Homework

Is biohacking a major concern?

Gene-editing technology known as CRISPR is becoming more and more widely available. CRISPR is the name of a family of DNA sequences, parts of which can be used like a pair of molecular scissors capable of cutting strands of DNA. However, many in the scientific community have sounded the alarm because doing this activity outside of professional laboratories could be quite dangerous.

In the near future, biohackers may be able to upgrade or optimize their physical and cognitive performance with gene editing. Some other biohacking techniques include implanting a small computer chip into your hand to use as ID, or taking "smart drugs" called nootropics.

But in California, where in Silicon Valley biohacking really took off, a new law is making it illegal to sell a do-it-yourself genetic engineering kit unless it comes with a warning that it’s not for self-administration.

However, according to Vox.com, nobody actually seems to be selling the kind of kit that’s prohibited.

Do you think "a warning" is enough for the DIY genetic engineering kit? Do Homework
What type of person would try DIY genetic engineering? (Would you?) Do Homework
In your opinion, is genetic engineering positive or negative? Why? Do Homework
Do you think genetic engineering will become normal in the future? Do Homework

Visuals: The median population age

A country’s demographics have a massive impact on the economy, outlook on the future and mood. The median population age varies widely around the world by continent.

Please have a look at the map below and discuss what you see with your teacher.

What is the difference between median, mode and average? Do Homework
Present this map to your teacher by continent. Use geographic markers (i.e. Central Asia, North Africa). Do Homework
Where does your country stand in this map? Do Homework
What are the implications of an ageing population? How about of a young one? Do Homework

How to reduce bias in hiring

In the U.S. and the European Union, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against a job applicant because of race, color, religion, age or sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation and pregnancy). Employers can't require photos or ask questions about personal information on an application.

But bias is still possible. Studies in the U.S. have shown that "ethnic-sounding" names can reduce by half the likelihood of being called for an interview, compared to applicants with "white" names.

Enter the start-up GapJumpers, founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs Kedar Iyer and Petar Vujosevic. Iyer first noticed that skilled coders were often overlooked because they hadn't gone to a big-name school. So he created a system of "interviews" based on completing a coding task like one you might have to do on the job. Potential employers only saw applicants' scores, with no personal information, to choose who to call back for an interview. According to GapJumper's statistics, only 20% of applicants other than white males with elite degrees made it to the interview stage with conventional hiring practices. Using GapJumpers, however, that number increased to 60%. Harvard Business School has since backed up the advantages of blind auditions with their own studies.

Summarize the article in just two sentences. Do Homework
Do you think the conventional hirers mentioned were intentionally biased? Do Homework
What other "blind" or "skills-based" hiring processes can you think of? Do Homework

New Year's traditions

The 1st of January is an important day in many countries, and people have different ways of welcoming the day. For some, it may be as simple as having a family dinner, while others perform specific rituals to start the new year off well.

In Denmark, they save all of their unused dishes and plates until the 31st of December, when they affectionately shatter them against the doors of all their friends and family to banish bad spirits.

In the Philippines, it’s all about the cash. They believe that everything should be round to represent coins and bring wealth. Round food, round clothes—as long as it’s round.

In Bolivia, coins are baked into sweets, and whoever finds the coins has good luck for the next year.

In Japan, they ring all of their bells 108 times in alignment with the Buddhist belief that this brings cleanness. It’s also considered good to be smiling going into the New Year, as it supposedly brings good luck.

These are just a few of the many New Year's traditions around the world. If you could try a different tradition, which one would you choose?

Are you surprised at any of the countries' traditions? Edit Homework
Can you think of any more traditions in your country? Do Homework
Some families have personal traditions, like eating a particular dish or playing a certain game. Does your family have anything like that? Do Homework
Where do traditions come from, and how do they survive? Do Homework
Are local traditions important in a globalising world? Do Homework

Video: The circular economy

Watch this short video: What is the circular economy?, about using a circular economy.

The video is about 4 minutes long with subtitles. You can change the speed of the video using the "playback speed" button in the tool bar at the bottom. Then discuss it with your teacher using the questions listed below. 

Explain a circular economy. Compare it to a linear economy. Do Homework
What are the pros and cons of using a circular economy? Do Homework
What other sorts of companies/products, besides Philips lightbulbs, could incorporate a circular economy? Do Homework
How long would it take to change the entire global economy to a circular one? Do we have the time to do it? Do Homework

Making learning a lifelong habit

According to The Harvard Business Review (HBR), lifetime learners consider learning as a source of personal and professional fulfillment. The Economist recently argued that with all the disruptions in the modern economy, particularly technology, ongoing skill development is key to maintaining professional relevance.

Learning must become a habit, and so demands careful cultivation. First, developing a learning habit requires you to articulate the outcomes you'd like to achieve. Would you like to reinvigorate your conversations and intellectual activity by reading a variety of new topics? Are you looking to master a specific subject?

Based on those choices, set realistic goals, such as reading a book per week or studying English for thirty minutes a day. With goals in hand, develop a learning community, such as book clubs and writing groups.

To focus on your objectives, ditch the distractions. Multitasking and technologies such as cell phones and email can make the deep concentration needed for real learning difficult or impossible. Finally, use appropriate technology to supplement learning. Podcasts, audiobooks, e-readers, and other tools make it possible to have a book on hand at almost any time.

Please summarize this article in two sentences. Do Homework
Do you consider yourself a lifetime learner? Why or why not? If not, would you like to become one? Do Homework
Have any role models inspired you to learn a new subject in the past? Do Homework
What is a subject you know little about that you would like to learn more about? Do Homework

Visuals: Researchers in the world

For years researchers argued about the "Nature vs Nurture" question. Is a person talented because they were born that way, or did people and circumstances in their environment cause them to develop certain skills?

While this question stays open, there is little doubt that living conditions do matter. Could Steve Jobs have created Apple if he was born in a village in Africa? How much new technology or how many groundbreaking discoveries are we losing because talented children in poor areas don't have access to adequate education?

Please have a look at the graph below and discuss what you see with your teacher.

Please summarise the nature vs. nurture argument in your own words. Do Homework
Please present the visual to your teacher. Point out trends and unusual points. Do Homework
Can you think of any ways to solve the problem of unequal access to education in the world? Edit Homework
Do you think rich countries should help poor countries? Do Homework

Women artists: Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama (1929– ) is considered by some to be the greatest Japanese artist of our times. Although her initial training was in the traditional nihonga art style, she became frustrated with it and wanted a change. She wrote to Georgia O'Keeffe, who encouraged her to move to New York. The Avant-Garde scene was thriving at the time, and Kusama fell right in with it. Her art became provocative, pushing the edges of what was considered "acceptable". She staged public sex, painting nude people with her signature polka-dots. Her art was, and is, psychedelic.

Kusama's images of dots and lines stem from hallucinations caused by mental illness. Her illness eventually compelled her to return to Japan. She has been very open about her mental health struggles. She says art is what keeps her alive.

In her visions, she sees dots and patterns that multiply until she feels "obliterated". In her art, dots cover people, walls, animals, etc., removing their usual outlines so that they disappear into the dotted background. You can see an example in the image above where Kusama herself becomes a part of the whole red-and-white dotted scene. She explains: "Polka dots can't stay alone. When we obliterate nature and our bodies with polka dots, we become part of the unity of our environments."

Among Kusama's most popular works are her Infinity Mirror Rooms. With mirrors and special lighting, the rooms create a virtual experience of infinity and unity with all.

What is Yayoi Kusama trying to express in her art? Do Homework
What is your opinion of her work? How do you feel about avant-garde art in general? Do Homework
Is it important for artists (or musicians, poets, etc.) to have training in traditional forms? Why or why not? Do Homework
In your opinion, is there any link between mental illness and creativity? Do Homework

The Himalayas—taller every year

The Himalayan mountain range is nearly 25 million years old, yet it is one of the youngest mountain ranges in the world. It was formed as a result of the collision of two tectonic plates over millions of years. The Indo-Australian plate is presently colliding against the Eurasian plate at a speed of 67 millimetres per year, which means that the Himalayan mountains, the tallest in the world, are getting even taller.

The Himalayas were named by joining two Sanskrit words that mean “Abode of Snow.” People in Nepal call Mount Everest Sagarmatha, which means “Goddess of the Universe.” Mount Everest derived its English name in honour of Sir George Everest, a 19th-century Surveyor General of India.

The rivers flowing from the Himalayas were also formed millions of years ago. The Ganges, Indus and Brahmaputra rivers run through South Asia; the Mekong, through Southeast Asia; and the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers, through East Asia. These rivers have supported the development of dozens of civilizations over the past ten thousand years, and so the Himalayas have had an incredible impact on human life in a large part of the Asian continent.

Please summarize this text in 2 sentences. Do Homework
What makes the Himalayas special? Do Homework
What do you like to do when traveling? Do you prefer hiking through mountains or relaxing on the beach? Do you like to go to cities, or spend time in nature? Do Homework
Why do people want to climb mountains? Do Homework

Video: Portals link the world

A public art installation makes it possible for people far apart to interact with each other. The ongoing project, "Portal—a Bridge to the United Planet", aims to create a sense of unity among people in different countries. 

Watch the short video below and listen for the answers to these questions:

  1. When did the project start?

  2. When the news of the portal "instantly went viral", how many people did it reach?

  3. How big is the portal?

  4. How does it work?

  5. Which two countries were connected first?

  6. How many countries do they hope to connect in the future?


Describe how people use the portals. What sorts of things can people do? Do Homework
The purpose of the portal, in the creators' words, is to "transcend this false sense of separation and be the pioneers of a united planet." What do they mean by that? Do you think they will succeed? Do Homework
What might be the disadvantages of a live streaming portal like this? Do Homework
Discuss other ways we could create a sense of unity among people across the world. Do Homework