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Compelling Conversations for English Teachers, Tutors, and Advanced English Language Learners

  1. Conversation Tip 5: What has pleasantly surprised you today?

    November 8, 2009 by Eric Roth
    Eric Roth

    What pleasantly surprised you today?

    This question often causes people to pause, reflect, and change their dialogue. It gives us a chance to remember some moments of satisfaction, and reminds us that almost every day provides some unexpected moments. “What surprised you today” works too.

    But I prefer adding the “pleasantly” to counter dialogues that can run to the negative. This positive question opens up room in a conversation for people to express gratitude for what has gone right – even in a difficult day. We bump into friends while shopping, see a new plant or flower in the yard, read something odd on the internet, or receive an unexpected call. As the ancient Latin proverb goes, “expect the unexpected.” Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t.

    What has pleasantly surprised you today? English teachers can use this question as a writing cue, during student-teacher conferences, or with co-workers. Students, especially at more competitive schools, can often feel great stress. Asking students about what is going right in their lives can help them focusing only on the negative. In fact, almost every one can use a gentle nudge toward away from stress and toward gratitude.

    So what pleasantly surprised me today? I noticed a new review for Compelling Conversations on Amazon written from Europe. A satisfied customer in Milan, Italy – Siano Luigi “EMY” called Compelling Conversations “a great help!”. This English teacher and private tutor wrote, “I find this book to be a great help for conversation lessons. It’s full of questions/tips/quotes that help students to discuss together, in group or individually on all kinds of different topics.” Given my limited distribution globally, this warm review from far away counts as a pleasant surprise!

    Gratitude, as ever, seems appropriate. Finding ways to increase our gratitude for our 21st lives makes emotional sense. Asking this simple question is my fifth conversation tip. Help build gratitude, and create better conversations.

    What has pleasantly surprised you today?

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  2. Gratitude is heaven itself

    July 19, 2008 by Eric Roth
    Eric Roth

    A bright college student asked a simple vocabulary question that threw me this week. “What is the opposite of jealous“?

    What is the opposite of jealous? Generous? Selfless? Confident? I found myself discussing various possibilities with students adding in situations. The simple vocabulary building exercise (create 25 pairs of opposite adjectives) took a more philosophical turn. We had a lively, if a bit wandering, class discussion. I apologized for my memory lapse, urged them to check a dictionary, and promised to get back to students with a better answer.

    In the teacher’s room, a fellow teacher noted “The world jealousy includes the word lousy.” We shared a laugh. That’s a good answer. How did he instantly come up with that? Why couldn’t I do that?

    I felt discontent, dissatisfied, and displeased with my weak classroom answers. Perhaps the opposite of “jealous” is content, satisfied, and pleased.

    Stress comes naturally when driving in Los Angeles, and my commute back home fit the pattern. Many words popped into my head that captured negative feelings, including jealous. Could I be jealous of bus riders? Really? I started to visualize a bus ride home from UCLA, sitting – no, probably standing up, for 40 minutes next to exhausted strangers. Memories of less pleasant commutes on subway rides in New York from 20 years ago returned. No, I didn’t envy or feel jealous of the bus riders.

    I eventually arrived home. Boomer, my dog, barked to announce my arrival and licked my face as I entered the front door. He’s great. “Dogs are our link to paradise,” wrote Milan Kundera. Absolutely.

    Gratitude. That’s the opposite of jealousy. Gratitude. Why didn’t I think of that in class? Next time.

    “Gratitude is heaven itself.” Who said that? Blake? Yeah, William Blake. The great poet-painter-mystic man. Remember that quote the next time an English student asks, “what is the opposite of jealous?”

    Teaching English, especially to bright international college students, helps keep me focused and clear. This week I learned the opposite of jealousy and rediscovered a favorite quotation. Consider me satisfied, content, and grateful.

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