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4th May 2015



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It's always good to come across some material that you think would be really interesting for your students. In the Independent last week they had a series on 'Top 20 misconceptions people believe are true'. Below is the text, together with some lesson ideas.

You do have to be careful when choosing material though. I have seen many a teacher promote an area that they think is a 'good thing'. For example, a teacher enthusiastic about a new political party pushing this onto the students thinking he's doing them a favour, making them more aware, only to find them indifferent. Just because they are indifferent does not mean they are unaware of the issues or importance of the area. Maybe they just do not want to talk about it in class, perhaps it is too personal for some to talk about. So the teacher can come over as being patronising & in danger of losing the respect of the students. So judicious choice of materials is vital.

Here is the text, a fairly neutral piece of material, presented each with a picture. Have a read - how many are new to you?

1. Most people believe coffee is made from beans, but experts say they are actually made from seeds called a bean.
2. It is commonly assumed that chameleons change colour to fit in with their surroundings. However, they actually change colour depending on their mood, temperature and their exposure to light.
3. Mount Everest is often named as the tallest mountain on earth. But while the summit of Mount Everest is higher above sea level than the summit of any other mountain, but Mauna Kea is the tallest when measured from base to summit.
4. People say you can see the Great Wall of China from space. But Apollo astronauts confirmed that you can't see the Great Wall of China from the Moon. In fact, all you can see from the Moon is the white and blue marble of our home planet.
china wall
5. One human year is equivalent to seven dog years it is thought. Actually it depends on the size and breed of the dog.
6. It's often said that you lose your body heat fastest through your head. This is a myth, experts say humans would be just as cold if they went without a hat as if they went without trousers.
7. We were all taught the Earth revolves around the Sun. Technically, what is going on is that the Earth, Sun and all the planets are orbiting around the centre of mass of the solar system.
8. Different parts of your tongue detect different tastes, right? Wrong. This was scientifically disproved by later research; all taste sensations come from all regions of the tongue, although different parts are more sensitive to certain tastes.
9. Peanuts are thought to be a type of nut, many think the clue's in the name. But actually peanuts, along with beans and peas, belong to the single plant family, Leguminosae.
10. Parents often claim giving children sugar makes them hyper. However, this is not the case, most research has concluded that sugar does not cause hyperactivity.
11. Humans have five senses most people assume. It turns out, there are at least nine senses and most researchers think there are more like twenty-one or so.
12. Fortune cookies are commonly believed to be a Chinese tradition. They were in fact invented by the Americans.
fortune cookies
13. When eating sushi most think the word means 'raw fish'. But sushi actually translates as sour-tasting.
14. Vikings are often depicted as wearing horned helmets. Yet there is no evidence to suggest Vikings ever wore horned helmets.
15. The forbidden fruit mentioned in the Book of Genesis is always thought of as an apple. The bible never mentions the forbidden fruit was an apple though.
16. Many say Vitamin C is an effective treatment for a cold. But most experts have stated there is little or no evidence that vitamin C can help treatment of a cold.
17. It will disappoint romantics but penguins don't mate for life. Penguins are mostly monogamous, however there are some species like the Emperor Penguin which is serially monogamous, they mate with one couple for the whole season but the next year they will probably mate with another penguin as the urgent need for breeding will make them avoid waiting for the same couple the following year.
18. It is a commonly held view that caffeine dehydrates. While caffeinated drinks may have a mild diuretic effect they don't appear to increase the risk of dehydration.
coffee cup
19. It is often said that in London, you are merely six feet away from a rat. But this is just a rough estimate as rodents are not evenly spread apart.
20. Is there a dark side of the moon. Apparently not. As the Moon is constantly rotating on its own axis, there is no area of the planetoid which is in permanent darkness.

It's the kind of text that people read to verify that they actually knew about the misconceptions anyway.

So what to do with this material?

1. An introduction, sinking the students into the theme - present the class with one of the points & ask them to discuss the validity of it - what do they think.

2. The 20 points could be distributed a variety of ways.
- give all out as one text
- one point to each student for a big group
- 5 per small group or pairs

The material does lend itself to a jigsaw activity i.e. students have different information & come together to exchange information for some communicative purpose. As with any interesting material you want the students to talk to each other about it, so a jigsaw activity provides just that.

3. The obvious reading task is to read & see if there is anything new for them & any they already knew in the statements. And then they might not agree with some of these!
While in their small groups reading the same points they could be encouraged to follow up on the points by Googling them on their phones/tablets.
Depending on the level/group you may need to pre-teach some items, although as each group would have different points you could either provide a glossary to each group for their own vocab or deal with it as it crops up, moving from group to group.

4. Then the students can choose one or two of the most interesting points from the collection they have been given & they mingle & tell each other, the communicative purpose being to decide which were the most interesting, unusual points.
Before they get up you could review/introduce some functional language to express surprise, disbelief, justifying etc...
Instead of simply telling & listening the students could be asked to find out what their listener knows about the point e.g. how did the Vikings dress? And when the other student says that they had hats with horns they say, 'Well actually.... ' telling them about the misconception.
Feedback then elicits the most interesting for a class discussion.

5. A follow up would be to ask the students to discuss any misconceptions they ever had about anything but realised they had been wrong.

If the reasoning behind some of the points is needed - who said it, what's the evidence? - as mentioned above, a quick Google on the points will yield results.

A couple of links to sites about common misconceptions:

Try the lesson out as it will be interesting for all & provoke lots of speaking practice.

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Happy teaching!


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