Manners for a Digital Age

Farhad Manjoo & Emily Yoffe, Manners for the Digital Age

 

As often as possible, I use topical, authentic materials in my classes. Since I listen to a fairly wide range of podcasts, I often find material for listening lessons (usually advanced level classes). One such gem that I’ve had a lot of success with is the podcast Manners for the Digital Age from slate.com. Unfortunately, it seems they have ended the podcast, but here are about 50 excellent episodes in their archives.

In this podcast, hosts Farhad Manjoo and Emily Yoffe tackle etiquette issues that have arisen because of new technology.  Listeners ask them for advice about such issues as “Is it ok for people to conduct their business when they’re doing their business?” “Should you expect your spouse to take out their ear-buds when you are talking to them?” “Are one word texts ok?” etc.

This podcast lends itself well to lessons that don’t require a lot of teacher prep. A standard lesson I do is as follows.

First, I play the opening of the show. This is where the hosts read a letter in which a listener asks for advice about some vexing problem that has resulted from the use of technology. I ask students to 1) identify the problem, and 2) predict the hosts’ responses. I usually write their ideas on the board. This is a good exercise to help students identify the main idea.

Second, they listen to the podcast (typically around 5 minutes) and check if their predictions were correct.

Then I set another listening task for the second listening. I ask students to write down any new or interesting words, collocations or chunks.  It is important to put the onus of discovering new vocabulary on the students. Most listening lessons provide a list of new words for students to study before they listen to a text. The rationale is, of course, that this will help them better cope with the listening passage. Well, yes and no. If we are serious about helping students become more autonomous learners, we should give them more responsibility when it comes to expanding their vocabulary. Are we doing students a favour by giving them a list of new words before each listening task? I try to “train” my students to catch interesting snippets of language themselves.

After the second listening, I elicit the language they’ve pulled from the text, write these words and collocations on the board, and then give them some time to figure out the meaning by talking to partners and/or using dictionaries.

 

Why am I such a fan of Digital Manners?

In addition to the highly relevant and interesting topics that students really enjoy, this podcast is an authentic listening text with two speakers, which means there are many examples of speech that aren’t always available in scripted texts. These include crosstalk, false starts, long meandering sentences, fragments, repetition, back-channeling – all the fun, messy parts of real speech that language learners need exposure to.

 

Other ways to use the podcast in a lesson:

 

This podcast can be used for a task-based lesson, a methodology popularized by Jane and Dave Willis, in which the students first perform a task, then see an example of the task performed by a native speaker, and from this sample the students can notice a particular language point.

The task in this case can be an informal debate. With all due respect, Farhad Manjoo is a tech-geek, and Emily Yoffe is a Miss Manners type; they don’t agree on much. Each episode is a good example of an informal debate. The teacher can introduce the topic and have the students debate it. After the debate, they listen to the podcast. Now they will be highly attuned to the content and language used in it. The teacher then sets a particular language point for them to focus on as they listen a second time. For example, students could be asked to identify examples of language used to agree and disagree. Students could then be asked to categorized the expressions as formal or informal. Finally, students could have a discussion about which host made the better points, during which time they try to use some of the new language of agreeing and disagreeing.

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