Discussion topics

Leadership and work-life balance

According to the Harvard Business Review (HBR), it is possible to be a business leader and still have a personal life with careful planning, but most people wouldn’t know this if they look at some of the most successful CEOs out there. Tesla CEO Elon Musk rarely sleeps or sees his kids and had a public meltdown, and Apple’s Tim Cook is on email before the sun rises.

These intense work styles are often celebrated as the only way to get to the top and be a super-productive leader. Surveys show that managers and executives describe the ideal worker as someone with no personal life or caregiving responsibilities.

The ThirdPath Institute, an organization dedicated to helping people find time for work, family, and life, was founded by Jessica DeGroot 20 years ago. She discovered that for leaders to stand up to status quo pressures and make work-life balance a priority, they had to cultivate skills around three relationships: learning to work differently with their teams at work, making a plan with their families to put home and family first, and shifting their own mindsets to not only believe change is truly possible, but to give themselves permission to try, and speak up about it.  

Please summarize this article in 3 sentences. Do Homework
Do you agree that a business leader can achieve a healthy work-life balance? Do Homework
Is working more the same as being more productive? Do Homework
Does your country have a long-working hours culture? Is this a good or a bad thing? Do Homework

Visuals: Mr. Abe and gun violence

The killing of the Japanese ex-prime minister, Shinzo Abe, shocked the whole world. Even though some of the people in Japan did not agree with his policies, the ex-prime minister’s murder is a sad event for the entire nation. 

The murder is shocking because it happened in Japan, where deaths from guns are very rare. It is also uncommon to hear about politicians being killed in developed countries. 

Please, have a look at the graphs below and discuss them with your teacher. 


What happened with Shinzo Abe? Do Homework
How did you feel when you heard the news? Do Homework
What do you think this means for security in Japan? Do Homework

Visuals: Racism in football

European football (soccer) has a history of racism. Recently, there has been a rise in racist comments from fans against players of color. Many football clubs are taking action against it. There are even projects involving computer- and A.I.-assisted technology to pinpoint racist fans.

But fans aren't just shouting abuse at matches; they're using social media as well. A 2021 study of online messages against the U.K's Premier League players found more than 3,000 abusive messages, 56% of which were racist.

So, how are social media platforms responding? Are they doing enough? The graph below shows what fans across Europe think.

Interpret the graph and present it to your teacher. Do Homework
How would you answer the questions on the survey? Do Homework
Are social media companies responsible for how people use them? Do Homework
Discuss hate speech vs. free speech. Do Homework

Modern humans hold ancient DNA

For a long time, we believed that Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens (modern humans) were two separate species. With the advent of DNA sequencing, however, it was discovered that Sapiens interbred with Neanderthals as they migrated from Africa 60,000 years ago. Another previously unknown hominid species, known as Denisovans, was also discovered at that time, and it interbred with Sapiens and Neanderthals, too.

Gene sequencing shows that non-African genomes today contain about 2% Neanderthal DNA, and people from Papua, New Guinea, and Australia are about 3% Denisovan. Studies on modern African DNA are taking longer because climate, geography and politics make locating skeletons much more difficult.

We are able to look in the other direction as well thanks to new technologies in genetic sequencing and computation. It appears that Sapiens contributed their genes to Neanderthal DNA more than 200,000 years ago. There is also evidence that another unknown hominid species interbred with everyone else, making up 4%–8% of modern human DNA.

Clearly, prehistoric peoples met and mixed a great deal more than we previously thought. In fact, we might not actually be all that separate. As biologist Adam Siepel has said, “It suggests that maybe Neanderthals actually are us. As different as they are, maybe they’re just another version of us.”

What is your initial response to this article? What thoughts do you have? How does it make you feel? Do Homework
As Homo Sapiens continue to evolve, what physical characteristics do you think will change? Do Homework
In your opinion, is this kind of research worth the financial costs? Do Homework
What does it mean to be human? Do Homework

Visuals: the price of war

The war in Ukraine has had a vast impact on the whole world. In addition to the humanitarian catastrophe, it has also caused increased rates of inflation all over the globe. 

This rise is mostly linked to increases in food, energy prices and disrupted supply chains. The impact is affecting the poorest countries the most. 

Look at the graph below describing the projected inflation rates for several countries, and discuss it with your teacher.

Please present the graph to your teacher Do Homework
How has the war impacted your country? Do Homework
What is your government doing regarding the crisis? What about the war? Do Homework
What should the international community do to help with the economic crisis? Do Homework

Visuals: Avoiding the news

There has been a lot of bad news in the last few years. Some people have decided to stop looking at the news because it's so bad. Since 2017, the number of people who avoid seeing the news has doubled in some places. The graph below shows the increase in countries around the world. Look at the graph and discuss it with your teacher.


Interpret the graph and present it to your teacher. Do Homework
Do you avoid seeing the news? Why or why not? Do Homework
In your opinion, do news sources focus too much on bad news? Do Homework
Brainstorm types of good news the media could report. Do Homework

Urban birdwatching

Birdwatching is a popular pastime across the globe. Some people take it very seriously, buying expensive gear and traveling all over the world to see rare birds. Most people, though, just have a good pair of binoculars and stay closer to home. 

But what if your home is a big city? What birds can you see in a city besides really common ones, like pigeons or crows, that are often pests and boring to watch?

I thought that way until I watched a film called, Birders: The Central Park Effect. The lake in the middle of Central Park is the only large body of water for miles on that migration route, so flocks of birds use it as a stopover. You can see birds there—in the middle of a huge, busy city—that you'd normally only see in the wild. And even in winter and summer, between migrations, there are lots of different species to see.

So just because you live in a city doesn't mean you can't enjoy birdwatching, every day if you want! Get yourself some binoculars and go find the birds.

What do you think about the intersection of wild animals and the urban environment? Is it possible for the two to coexist? Do Homework
Talk about an experience you've had with animals. Was it good or bad? Do Homework
Why do you think people enjoy birdwatching? Do Homework

The Taliban asks for help

A deadly 6.1-magnitude earthquake hit Afghanistan on June 22. So far, more than 1000 people have been reported dead, and at least another 1500 have been injured. This is a humanitarian disaster that requires aid.

People in remote areas have to dig through the rubble with their bare hands, hoping to find people under the destroyed buildings. In addition, recent rains have damaged many roads making access even more difficult. Afghanistan has already experienced multiple humanitarian crises in recent months. This has caused shortages. 95% of households do not have enough food and the health system is not functioning properly.

The Taliban leader, who seldom appears in public, addressed the international community for help. This is a difficult situation because many countries do not recognise the Taliban as an official government and do not want to send any money to this terrorist organization. This forces countries and organisations to question what they should do to assist and how.

Tell your teacher what happened and what the problems are. Do Homework
In your opinion, how should the international community respond? Do Homework
Has your country ever faced a catastrophe? If yes, did the international community help? Do Homework

Ursula LeGuin and writers of hope

Watch this video clip of fantasy writer Ursula LeGuin's acceptance speech of the 2014 U.S. National Book Award. Be prepared to summarize and discuss the points she makes about writers and the contemporary world.


What are the main points of LeGuin's speech? Do Homework
Do you agree with LeGuin's ideas? Why or why not? Do Homework
LeGuin's speech was given in 2014. How are things different today? Or are they still the same? In what ways? Do Homework
In your opinion, does fantasy and science fiction writing qualify as literary art? Do Homework

What kind of mindset do you have?

Harvard Business Review has researched the mindsets that affect a person’s leadership ability. Here are different mindsets they have found.

Growth and Fixed Mindsets. People with a growth mindset believe that people change. Everyone can develop their abilities, intelligence, and talent. However, people with a fixed mindset believe people are born with specific skills and cannot develop them. 

Learning and Performance Mindsets. Learning mindsets mean people are motivated to learn something new just because they like learning. They want to learn without any external factors. On the other hand, people with performance mindsets are motivated to learn to get positive feedback or because they are afraid to get negative critiques. 

Promotion and Prevention Mindsets. People with promotion mindsets are focused on gaining something and winning. They tend to have goals and work on achieving them. People with prevention mindsets want to prevent losses and avoid problems.

Harvard Business Review says that people with the first type of mindsets in each paragraph become better leaders. They suggest companies teach their managers not only leadership skills but also how to change their mindset.

Could you please tell the main idea of the article to your teacher. Edit Homework
Do you agree with Harvard Business Review? Edit Homework
What kind of mindsets do you have? What about your boss? Do Homework
Could you please describe an ideal leader. Do Homework

Elon Musk bans remote work

Elon Musk has ordered all employees to return to the office full-time or resign. In two leaked memos, he makes it clear that remote work will not be allowed except for "particularly exceptional contributors for whom this is impossible". These memos have been reported on news networks and Twitter feeds. The news network CNBC transcribed the first memo.

What strikes you most about this email from Elon Musk? Do Homework
What do you think of his management style? Do Homework
Describe your ideal work environment. Do Homework
Which is most important for productivity: the number of hours worked, or the work environment? Do Homework

How Meta targets political ads

Meta, owner of Facebook and Instagram, says it will provide outside researchers more information on how political and social ads are targeted on its platform, providing insight into the ways that politicians, campaign operatives and political strategists buy and use ads during election periods. Starting from May 2022, academics and researchers registered with Facebook Open Research and Transparency will be allowed to see more detailed targeting data, including which interest categories—such as “people who like dogs” or “people who enjoy the outdoors”—have been chosen to aim ads at specific people.

Meta also plans to include summaries of targeting information for some of its ads in its publicly viewable Ad Library. Created in 2019, the Ad Library allows the public to obtain information about political ads, thus helping to safeguard elections against the misuse of digital advertising.

While Meta provides outsiders some access into how its ads are used, it has been known to restrict the amount of information available, citing privacy reasons. This has led to conflicts, including with a group of New York University academics in 2020.

Have you ever seen a political or social advertisement on social media? If so, what was it about? Do Homework
Explore the Ad Library with your teacher. What advertisements can you find from politicians in your area? Do Homework
Which is more effective: online advertising or traditional modes of advertising? Do Homework
Is it ethical for politicians to advertise on social media? Why or why not? Do Homework

Death penalty: is it okay to kill?

Even though punishment by death has been abolished in many places globally, there are still fifty-five countries that practice the death penalty, with the USA and China being among them. So what are the arguments for and against the death penalty?

  • “An eye for an eye” is an old law that goes back to the times of the Babylonian Empire. It was written somewhere around 1800 BCE. However, death penalty supporters argue that people who have committed the worst crimes (e.g., murder) should be punished by death. On the other hand, the opponents say that justice systems are not perfect. The state would kill innocent people in the case of mistakes (which has happened in history). On top of that, the death penalty is the most popular in authoritarian states (such as China and Saudi Arabia), where it is difficult to argue against authorities' decisions. 
  • The death penalty prevents crimes. The supporters believe that potential criminals will think twice before committing a crime if they know they could be executed. However, recent studies doubt this, and 88% of criminologists do not believe that the death penalty stops crimes. 
  • Costs. The proponents claim that it costs too much for taxpayers to keep prisoners alive. However, the research shows that executing people is far more expensive. For example, California reports that the annual cost of the death penalty is  $137 million per year in the state. 
  • Morality. The proponents claim that killing is justified if it follows a proper process and is done in order to punish crimes. On the other hand, the opponents say that killing is always morally wrong, and asking the police or medical staff to execute people as part of their jobs is unfair and damaging to their mental health. 

Please, share your opinion about each argument. Do Homework
Could you please present the map to your teacher? Do Homework
What are the consequences of the death penalty on the families of those involved? What about society in general? Do Homework
In your opinion, should prisons be comfortable? Do Homework

How singing affects your brain

Watch this short video about what happens in the brain when we sing. Listen carefully to hear what happens in the different parts of the brain.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta: Health Benefits of Singing

What are the names of the 3 different parts of the brain mentioned? What happens in each of them when we sing? Do Homework
Do you sing? How often do you think about music? Do Homework
What other activities might require more than one part of the brain? Do Homework

Salmon sushi is Norwegian

Look at the menu of any sushi shop in Japan and you will almost certainly see salmon: fatty, tender and bright orange. But salmon is actually a relatively new addition to the sushi menu.

Behind salmon’s rise to popularity is the Norwegian marketing campaign: Project Japan. In the 1970s, Norway began commercial salmon farming but, with decreasing seafood consumption at home, salmon was soon filling industrial freezers. Japan, meanwhile, had been overfishing its waters, and with Japanese fishermen told to remain within their exclusive economic zones by the United Nations, Japan began opening up its once nearly self-sufficient seafood industry to foreign suppliers.

When Bjorn Eirik Olsen, director of market research for Project Japan, landed in Tokyo in 1986, he knew his target market. “We had to target the raw consumption market,” he said. Fish meant for sushi or sashimi can be priced up to 10 times higher than fish aimed for the grill market. However, when Olsen introduced Norwegian salmon to the Japanese seafood industry, it was met with the response: “We don’t eat salmon in Japan.” Raw salmon that is.

Is salmon sushi viewed as traditional Japanese food? Why or why not? Do Homework
Can you think of other food that's become popular relatively recently? Do Homework
What do you think is the next big food trend? Do Homework

Breakthrough in medicine

New research from the Babraham Institute has potentially made a revolutionary breakthrough in regenerative medicine. The scientists developed a method to rejuvenate skin cells by 30 years. 

Our cells have several functions, such as providing structure and support, transporting molecules, producing energy, helping with growth, creating metabolic reactions and helping in reproduction. However, with age, cells lose these functions and accumulate age marks. 

New research reprogrammed cells by restoring their functions and changing the molecular measures of biological age. Rejuvenated skin cells produced more collagen that helped heal wounds and provide structure to our skin, the same as natural young skin cells do. 

This research is based on the Nobel Prize method developed by Shinya Yamanaka in 2007 of creating stem cells—cells that have the ability to turn into any cell type with any function. 

Further research into this area might help not only to reduce the aging effect but also to help to cure age-related illnesses, such as Alzheimer's disease.

Tell your teacher the main idea of the article. Do Homework
Do you think rejuvenation medicine is something humanity should invest in? Do Homework
What would you like to discover if you could make a breakthrough in medicine? Do Homework
What are some potential sociological consequences if people are able to stay young longer? Do Homework

Nonprofit business: Clean the World

One night at a hotel in 2009, tech executive Shawn Seipler thought about how many bars of soap guests use for a night and then leave. He called the front desk to find out what they did with the used soap and learned that they just throw it away. In the U.S. alone, hotels throw out about 3.3 million bars of soap every day.

So, Seipler started Clean the World, a nonprofit that recycles soap, in his garage. He quickly discovered that major hotel chains, airlines, cruise companies and casinos were happy to pay him to take their waste. The business has since grown into a $750k production facility in Orlando, Florida, with branch operations around the world.

Clean the World works with international humanitarian organizations to direct the recycled soap to people in need. Soap is sent to places like natural disaster areas, refugee facilities and countries with high rates of diseases caused by a lack of simple hygiene products. One 3-oz bar of soap is good for 100 hand-washings. So, next time you’re in a hotel, think about it. As Seipler says, “I know it sounds funny, but that little bar of soap on the counter in your hotel room—that thing can literally save a life.”

What is the main point of this article? Do Homework
Have you ever thought about what happens to the soap you leave in a hotel room? Do you generally think about the waste you create when throwing things away? Do Homework
What other simple, useful things like hotel soap could we recycle instead of throw away? What other organizations do you know that are doing this kind of work? Do Homework
If you decided to start a nonprofit business, what would it be? Do Homework

Do trees talk to each other?

People generally think of trees as disconnected loners, competing for water, nutrients, and sunlight, with winners shading out losers and sucking them dry. But evidence to the contrary is coming to light. Forest trees are, in fact, cooperative and live in interdependent relationships maintained by communication and collective intelligence similar to an insect colony.

Unlike other organisms, most of the communication between trees happens underground, through a system known as the “Wood Wide Web”. “[Trees] in every forest that is not too damaged”, explains Peter Wohlleben, a German forester and author, “are connected to each other through underground fungal networks. Trees share water and nutrients through the networks, and also use them to communicate. They send distress signals about drought and disease, for example, or insect attacks, and other trees alter their behaviour when they receive these messages.”

As a fee for their services, the fungi consume about 30 percent of the sugar that the trees photosynthesize from sunlight. This sugar fuels the fungi as they scavenge the soil for nitrogen, phosphorus and other mineral nutrients, which they then pass on to the trees. For young saplings in dense parts of the forest, the network is a lifeline. Without sufficient sunlight to photosynthesize, saplings can only survive because big trees, including their parents, pump sugar into their roots through the network.

Please summarise this article in a maximum of four sentences. Do Homework
How often do you spend time in natural environments like forests? Why? Do Homework
Now that you know the "wood wide web" exists, has your view on trees changed? If so, how? Do Homework
How should the way humans interact with trees change now that we know they communicate with each other? Do Homework
Discovery of the wood wide web is relatively recent. Can you think of another recent scientific breakthrough? Do Homework

Task: Robots and etiquette

Society is filled with social and etiquette rules. As we grow up, we learn them and follow them without even noticing. Etiquette can be different in various situations, cultures, communities and workplaces. 

Even though people learn these rules when growing up, they are later able to distinguish the rules themselves in new cultures. However, what should we do with robots? If robots become parts of our workplace, what should we teach them?

Please, look at the task below with your teacher and discuss it.


(Exercise credit belongs to English Current)

What are some etiquette rules in your company? Country? Edit Homework
Have you faced any cultural differences in etiquette? Do Homework
Do you think we need the rules of etiquette? Do Homework

Doodling: why do we do it?

"Doodling" is drawing without thinking about it, on whatever is in front of us. Sometimes it's on the side of meeting notes, or on an envelope or napkin. It's a very common habit. So, why do we do it?

There are a few reasons we doodle:

  • to pass the time when we can't do anything else, like when we're on a train or waiting for a bus;
  • to keep ourselves awake during a boring presentation, lecture, etc.; and

  • to focus on something while meditating.

Studies show that people who doodle while listening to someone talk remember 30% more of what was said than people who don't doodle. Doodling actually helps keep us focused. Our brain stays occupied, so our attention doesn't wander.

Some researchers believe that what we doodle has a deeper meaning. Doodling can show us what we're thinking about, what we're feeling, and who we are. Different people believe in different meanings, so take them with a grain of salt.

Watch this video and let yourself doodle. Just draw freely without a plan, and see what comes out!


take [something] with a grain of salt—to understand that what is said isn't necessarily true.


Have you ever had a class like this in school or university? Were you able to stay awake? How did you do that? Do Homework
How does doodling help us pay attention? Edit Homework
What do you usually draw when you doodle? Are there certain shapes or figures? Do Homework
Do you believe that our doodles reveal our inner thoughts and feelings? Do Homework
Some people say that doodling is art. Do you agree? Why or why not? Do Homework