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Conversation topic: Sample text


When conducting one of my conversation topics, we always begin with a reading text.


The procedure is that we read through the selected vocabulary first which has a list of all the words and phrases that are perhaps less familiar to students. The student then reads what is, I hope, an easy dictionary definition. If the student is still unsure, then I give some examples of how the word or phrase is used. The vocabulary list is usually found at the end of the text, after the comprehension questions.


Then we read through the 'warmer' questions, which are designed to give the student a 'feel' of the topic.

After this, we begin to read the text aloud. (All the words featured in the vocabulary list are all the words that are highlighted in red in the text. You'll see what I mean when you look at the example below.) I read first, pausing at the end of each paragraph, and then, having listened to my voice and the way I pronounce the words and how I say them (intonation), the student then reads the text and is corrected mainly for pronunciation errors.

When we've finished reading the text, we go through the comprehension questions.

If there's time left, we move to the next stage - the PowerPoint presentation.

However, at the start of a new lesson, we can go back to the VOCABULARY list and choose at least eight words or phrases, and then we have a conversation, or a question and answer session, in which one person has to use one of the words or phrases from the list, and the other has to respond but by including a different word or phrase from the list.

Anyway, here's the sample text that is used for the conversation lesson. The subject is about LAZINESS.

Warmer: Do you think you’re lazy? Do you also put in as much effort as you can at work? Do you believe some of your colleagues are not doing as much as they should? Do you often do various physical activities but try to use as little energy as possible? Do you find it easy to do nothing or do you have no problem finding the effort and energy to go and do some exercise?

Read the article below, and then answer the questions that follow.

Are humans hardwired to be lazy, and how lazy are you at work?
Adapted by Roger Hartopp 20 September 2018, from the Health section on the BBC website, 10 September 2015, and by Joshua Cheetham, Business reporter, BBC News, 5 December 2017

Right. Time to start work. One of my first duties this morning is to update, revise and add to the text concerning the topic of laziness. This text you’re reading now….

Ah, let’s have a quick look at YouTube. Or have a quick game of Fortnite. Actually, I think I’ll just lie on the couch a bit and play with the phone.

Er, no. Actually, I’m in the mood for this text, so let’s get on with it.

The BBC reported that a study conducted by the Simon Fraser University in Canada suggests that humans are biologically hard-wired – that is, it’s what we do naturally and can’t be changed – to be lazy. And on top of that, a survey conducted by tech firm Dropbox says one in five Brits admit they never work to the best of their ability in their jobs. As regards that latter statement, I could imagine that being worse for those who are self-employed, who don’t have a boss to report to. (But at the same time, many who are self-employed can be the opposite: see my discussion topic on workaholism.)

As regards the Canadian study, researchers asked nine volunteers to wear leg braces which made walking at their usual pace more strenuous. But within minutes each volunteer had worked out how to modify their usual walking pattern so that they use the least energy. And even though they had quickly changed that pattern, a habit that may have formed over a long time, researchers say that in some cases the energy savings made were very small. Or in their own words, "the calorific equivalent of peanuts".

It seems that, when the subconscious nervous system is left to its own devices, it continuously fine-tunes movements to keep energy costs low. These findings appear to fit in well with our natural tendency to put as little effort into tasks as possible. Dr Max Donelan said: "Here we have provided a physiological basis for this laziness by demonstrating that even within a well-rehearsed movement like walking, the nervous system subconsciously monitors energy use and continuously re-optimises movement patterns in a constant quest to move as cheaply as possible."

And don’t think that exercise is going to solve the problem. Researchers also claimed that even when going on a run, their brains are hard at work in the background making it as efficient as possible. Bad news for those who eat too much.
However, the university does add that more work is needed to expand upon this early research and in particular to understand how the body's thousands of muscle-nerve units work together to achieve this feat.

So that’s the exercise part – but the other area of laziness that has come under scrutiny is the UK workplace. Apparently, nearly three-quarters of the 2,000 people interviewed by Dropbox said that they don't work to the best of their ability even once a week. They added they think only 68% of colleagues are good at their jobs.

So it seems the UK's poor productivity is being blamed for holding back the UK economy. The government's economic watchdog, the Office for Budgetary Responsibility (OBR), said productivity has grown by just 0.2% a year for the past five years, much less than expected, and believed that this would continue for at least another five years.

Brennan Jacoby, a philosopher at cultural institution The School of Life, which conducted the survey with Dropbox, said: "Fundamentally, people have a natural inclination towards laziness and without clear roles and objectives we are drawn towards loafing and free riding. Often it's not a lack of motivation causing this, more often it can be a lack of clarity.” He added: "Give team members clear roles and responsibilities and the chances are productivity and happiness will rise."

The Dropbox survey found that construction and emergency service workers have the highest opinion of their colleagues, whilst those in public relations and IT have the lowest. Dropbox said this might be because sectors such as construction and medicine are "safety-critical" jobs, which require trust to be placed in co-workers to ensure everyone's safety. It added that the benefits of teamwork are also more apparent and more clearly understood in these roles.

The survey indicated that those in more senior positions – the bosses – had a lower opinion of their colleagues compared with those in entry-level roles. Managing directors and board-level workers said they believed only 58% of their co-workers – that is, those workers who are on the same level as they are – were good at their jobs. They are basically saying that 42% of managing directors and board-level workers are not.

So what are we to read in all of this? Looks like I’ll have to do some further research into the way the mind works and how our personalities are shaped and analyse the data from the Simon Fraser University and… oh, I couldn’t be arsed. Grand Theft Auto awaits…

1.    What did a study conducted by the Simon Fraser University in Canada show? And Dropbox?
2.    As regards the Canadian study, why did nine volunteers wear leg-braces?
3.    What were the findings of this research?
4.    Does the study suggest that going for a run will help with exercise? Why/why not?
5.    According to the Dropbox survey, what percentage of people said they didn’t work to the best of their ability? And what percentage believed their colleagues were good at their jobs?
6.    Which government department is blaming low productivity as regards the slowing down of the British economy?
7.    What does Brennan Jacoby suggest would help?
8.    Which work sector has the highest level of opinions for their colleagues? Why?
9.    Why do you think that many bosses have low opinions of their colleagues in similar positions? Do you believe this is the case at your workplace?


to be hardwired – to do what we do naturally and we can’t change this. These days, young people are now hard-wired to their smartphones.

workaholism – the state of being addicted to work. For many companies, workaholism is seen as another form of ambition.
pace – the speed of doing things. Traffic’s moving at a slow pace today.
strenuous – more hard-working, more effort needed. You shouldn’t do strenuous exercise after eating.
subconscious – here, a part of your body that can influence you or affect your behaviour even though you are not aware of it. He plays with his pen in a subconscious way.
left to its/their own devices – to leave alone and let it or someone do what it/they want to do. He knows what he needs to do, so just leave him to his own devices. 
to fine-tune – to make very small and precise changes to something in order to make it as successful or effective as it possibly can be. It’s working well now, but with a little more fine-tuning it’ll work perfectly!
tendency – a typical or repeated habit, action or belief. He has a tendency to say ‘OK’ a lot.
to re-optimise – here, to arrange or design patterns so that they operate as smoothly and efficiently as possible. It’s still not working so the internal parts have to be re-optimised.
to be efficient – to do tasks successfully without wasting time or energy. Modern car engines are becoming more efficient.
to come under scrutiny – to be studied or observed very carefully. Something’s not right so the department has come under scrutiny to see if there are problems.  
to the best of their ability – to do something as well as you/they can. I know the project must be finished tomorrow, but we’re all working to the best of our abilities.
productivity – the rate at which goods and services are produced. We have to increase productivity to meet demand.
holding back/to hold back – here, to prevent something from happening. Do you want to apply for the boss’s job or is something holding you back?

watchdog – a person or committee whose job is to make sure that companies do not act illegally or irresponsibly. A media watchdog is needed to check that TV companies are following the rules.
philosopher – someone whose job is to think deeply and seriously about life and other basic matters. Philosophers think about in what form God exists, if he does.
fundamentally – an adverb used to emphasis an opinion, or when you are making an important or general statement about something. What you are doing with those animals is fundamentally wrong.
natural inclination – a feeling that makes you want to act in a particular way. He has a natural inclination to say ‘no’ even if there is only a small chance things will go wrong.
loafing – here, standing or waiting in a place and not doing anything interesting or useful. I don’t see any work being done at your desk – are you just loafing?
free riding – getting a benefit obtained by someone else, or without the usual cost or effort. John’s being congratulated for a job well done but all he’s been doing is free riding on Alan’s success. 
lack of clarity – the quality of being clear and easily understood, or rather, the lack of it. You know, there’s a lack of clarity in the reasons of what you’re saying as regards the benefits of cutting staff.
couldn’t be arsed – a very informal phrase used to state that the person really does not want to do what is needed to be done. Do the vacuuming? Sorry, I just couldn’t be arsed!

So… Do you like doing things when you are told to do them? How excited do you feel when you are asked to do a task that you really don’t want to do?

Complete the following PowerPoint questionnaire to find out!

Author, cartoonist, language instructor, English text proofing, and a definite sense of humour

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