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Author's Note:
Words of Wisdom from One Facilitator to Another

Congratulations! Life Topics will lead you into the most exciting part of language learning, critical thinking. The lessons introduce students to complex ideas and issues. The reading-passages short, simplified, and yet jam-packed with information-encourage students to acquaint themselves with these issues and form opinions.

Most educators use the top-down approach, forcing information onto students. Texts are formulae for memorization. A student reads a dull, generic passage, seeks a single "correct" answer buried somewhere in the text, regurgitates it, unthinkingly accepts it. Too often the student sits by bored and lifeless, unable or unwilling to offer comment or to question. Such does little to prepare a student for life. How to tap enthusiasm and wisdom? Develop critical thinking? Engage the student in meaningful dialogues?

The answer is a bottom-up approach, which the topics here provide. They are exciting to student and teacher alike. Some are lighthearted and fun. Others are serious. Each taps students' own experiences to stimulate critical, independent thinking. Each compels students to contemplate and discuss-many for the first time. Each lesson is independent and complete in itself. The facilitator may present the lessons in any order. The following protocol, based on a decade of use, can aid in presenting the lessons.

Pre-Question: At the beginning of each lesson, ask the pre-question. Allow the students time to contemplate and discuss within groups, to gather initial thoughts on the topic. Then discuss as a class. If the students lack answers, don't worry. By the end of the lesson they will.

1. Vocabulary Support: Allow students time to write out their answers. Then review their sentences with them.

2. Reading: Give students enough time to read the passage. The concepts can be complex, but the vocabulary is understandable. Then go over the passage together.

3. Active Outline: Active Outline: Have students fill in the outline, which matches the text. This is a straightforward exercise to confirm that students have read and understand the article. Have students check one another's answers. Then provide the correct answers. Note that the numbers correspond to the paragraph numbers.

4. Comprehension Questions: These more advanced questions check understanding and reinforce specific points. Answers are factual, situated in the text, and are not open to debate. Divide the students into smaller groups. Give them time to check their answers, and then review as a class, ensuring that all students comprehend the details.

5. Critical Thinking: This section compels students to view topics from varied perspectives. First, students cite facts and make judgments which favor or oppose a given idea or issue. Then they give their own opinions based upon the facts and their own sets of values.

6. Writing: Give students time to think through their opinions and write their thoughts. Then break the class into smaller groups and give students time to compare and discuss answers. Ask a few to read their answers to the class, correcting as a class as needed. Urge students to think in terms of logic, fairness, creativity, and consequences. If appropriate, urge those on one side of an issue to try to persuade those on the other to change their minds.

7. Class Discussion: Each chapter provides additional open-ended questions. Students may pick their own discussion questions, or the facilitator can decide. Questions with asterisks prompt greater critical thinking. To ask them is to grant the lesson more meaning and depth, compel students to seek not obvious answers but deeper implications and ramifications of the issue, prompting livelier discussion. Again, urge students to think in terms of logic, fairness, creativity, and consequences. To encourage deeper discussions, have some students try to change the minds of others. Consider class polls. Have them raise their hands to vote on issues. The most votes wins. Note: The following two "bonus" activities are optional and not included in the student text. They create more opportunities to discuss, allow a chance to better gauge student understanding, and let students link what they have learned to their personal experiences. Use these activities if time and student ability level permit:

8. Debate: This activity urges students to make coherent arguments based on what they know and what they have learned and, importantly, to perceive issues from other perspectives. Students will come to distinguish strong arguments from weak, issues of greater importance from lesser ones. Let students debate in order to persuade their classmates. Take a final class poll to decide the outcome. Note that these questions can also be used for either writing or class discussion.

9. Open Conversation: Students will make up their own questions. This will help them to delve more into issues, becoming more active participant than passive witness, and claim ownership of the topic.

Option 1: Students stand up and stretch, walk around and engage others from outside their own groups, discuss their questions for about five minutes. Repeat once.

Option 2: The entire class reviews selected student questions.

Option 3: Return to the original pre-question. Ask: Have any students have changed their minds during the lesson?

Of primary importance: Critical thinking focuses not on answers but on questions and concepts. Regardless of the topic, remain non-judgmental. Do not guide the class in any direction. Do everything possible to support all student viewpoints and lively, open discussion and debate. At times voice unpopular views (play devil's advocate). Urge the shy to speak. Defend those with minority opinions. Tell personal stories. Encourage students to tell their own.

To keep a positive learning atmosphere, act as a psychologist, counselor, moderator, and leader. Always respect student ideas. Urge them to express their opinions. Critically analyze their conclusions. Pose deeper questions. If students ask, "What is your opinion of this topic?," say "I have no opinion; I reflect only the will of the class." It is vital that all ideas be respected and heard. Let the discussion go where it may. Students own wisdoms often ignored. Heavy-handedness can quash discussion, turn a class into a boring polemical lecture, destroy all potential for critical thinking and learning. One class may reach conclusions radically different from another's? This is what makes classes enjoyable for all. Students appreciate being in the limelight, having their ideas heard--a joy experienced rarely in education today.

Note: The Teacher's Manual includes a Pre-Question and Debate Questions for each chapter. These are listed below.

Ch 1:
The Beauty of the Seasons

Describe changes which happen during each season.

1. Which is the best season in Japan? Why?
2. What would be the best possible New Year's event or activity for you and your family or friends? Pretend that money is no object. What would you do? Where would you go? Use your imagination.
Ch 2:
The History of the Hamburger

When was the hamburger first made?

1. What is the best fast food?
2. If not a hamburger, what do you think of when you think of America? What should be the symbol of America?
3. How would you compare Japanese food to American food? Which is healthier? Which is tastier? Which do you prefer when eating with friends? Why?
4. If the hamburger is the food which best represents America, which food would represent Japan? Why?
Ch 3:
The Importance of English

What is the most important language in the world? Why?

1. What are the advantages of knowing English?
2. What is most important, reading, writing, or speaking English? Why?
3. What can be done to improve English education in Japan?
4. Why are so many Japanese poor at English?
5. What is the best age to begin studying English? Why?
Ch 4:
How the Internet Evolved

In what year and where did the Internet begin?

1. In many countries younger people prefer the Internet to television. Why do you think this is?
2. If you had to choose between the Internet and television, which would you choose? Why?
Ch 5:
Liquid Candy

Are sodas healthy to drink?

1. Should there be warning labels on sodas? Why or why not?
2a. Do children know the effects of soda on health? Do they care? If they do, why do they still drink so much of it?
2b. Do parents know the effects of soda on their own health and the health of their children?
3. Would higher taxes stop people from drinking soda? Should soda have a high tax?
4. Does your local school sell sodas to its students? Should schools be allowed to sell sodas to young students? Why or why not?
Ch 6:
Travel in Japan

Name some interesting places to travel in Japan.

1. If you had a million yen to travel somewhere in Japan, where would you go? Why?
2. Name two places you have visited. What are two things you liked and disliked about each place?
3. If you had a month to travel only throughout the north, south, east, or west of Japan, which would you choose? Would you go to the north, south, east, or west? Why?
Ch 7:
The Secret of Happiness

What is the secret of happiness?

1. Do you think that happiness can spread from one person to another? Why? Give examples.
2. Which is better to study, regular psychology or positive psychology? Why?
Ch 8:
Shopping on the Internet

What are some advantages to buying goods on the Internet?

1. Will online shopping eventually replace stores?
2. Why has online shopping become so popular so quickly?
Ch 9:
Do Aliens and UFOs Exist?

What UFO stories have you heard?

1. Should we look for life on other planets? Should we attempt to contact UFOs? Why?
2. If you met an alien, would you tell others about it? If you did, do you think others would believe you?
Ch 10:
The Happiest Country in the World

Which is the happiest country in the world?

1. Should Japan have a system like Denmark's? If so, which policies of Denmark should Japan adopt and why?
2. Should hospitals and education be free? What would happen if hospitals and education were free for everyone?
3. Who do you think is happier-those living in large cities like Tokyo or those living in the countryside, as in Aizu-Wakamatsu? Why?
Ch 11:
Secondhand Smoke

What do you know about secondhand smoke? Is it dangerous? If so, how dangerous is it ?

1a. In America, cigarette vending machines are illegal almost everywhere. Why do you think this is?
1b. Do cigarette vending machines encourage people to smoke? Why or why not?
1c. Should cigarette vending machines be illegal in Japan? Why or why not?
2. In October, 2010, the cost of a pack of cigarettes in Japan increased from 300 to 440 yen. However, cigarette prices here are still (for developed countries) the world's lowest. To discourage smoking, that same pack of cigarettes costs 1,050 in New York and 1,300 in London. Would you support Japan raising the price of cigarettes to these levels? Why or why not?
3. Why do you think cigarette companies add flavorings such as menthol and chocolate to cigarettes? What type of person are they encouraging to smoke? Should it be allowed? Why or why not?
Ch 12:
Plastic Surgery

What do you know about plastic surgery?

1. Would you suggest plastic surgery for someone who is looking for work and wants to look better?
2. Would you rather have 1,000,000 yen for plastic surgery or 600,000 yen to invest or travel?
3. If you had plastic surgery, would you tell your friends and family? Why or why not?
4. Will the number of people having plastic surgery increase in the future? Why?
5. Why is plastic surgery more popular with younger than with older people? Why is it more popular with females than with males?
Ch 13:
What Colors Tell About You

Can your favorite color tell you anything about yourself?

1. Do you agree with these interpretations of what colors say about you? Are they accurate? 2. Which tells more about you-your favorite color or your blood type? Why?
Ch 14:
Free Music

When did downloading music first become popular?

1. Most teenagers see nothing wrong with downloading items for free. Why do they think this way? Are these people "bad" or misguided?
2. Other types of downloaded items include movies, television shows, software, magazines, and books. Would you download any of these items? Why or why not?
3. Has the Internet improved music? How? For those who make music, are there now more or fewer opportunities than before?
4. Do you agree with the last sentence of the article that today music is better than ever before?
Ch 15:

Do you know of any haunted places?

1. Is there life after death?
2. Do ghosts prove that there is life after death?
2a. If ghosts do prove that there is life after death, why wouldn't you want to see a ghost?
3. What happens to a person once he or she dies?
Ch 16:
Fast Food and Health

Why is fast food so popular? Is it healthy?

1. Has fast food in Japan increased the weight of its young people? If so, shouldn't the government try to protect them?
2. Does fast food destroy the traditional Japanese food industry?
Ch 17:
Artificial Insemination

What is artificial insemination?

1. Should Japanese be allowed to go to other countries for artificial insemination? Why do you feel this way?
2a. If Crown Princess Masako were to have a male child using a donor sperm, should her son be allowed to become the future prince? Why or why not?
2b. If Crown Princess Masako were to have a male child using a younger woman's egg, should her son be allowed to become the future prince? Why or why not?
3a. Women: If another woman's egg were used to make you pregnant, would you consider the child to be yours?
3b. Men: If another man's sperm were used to make your wife pregnant, would you consider the child to be yours?
Ch 18:
The Dangers of Credit Cards

Are credit cards more popular in America than they are in Japan?

1. Now that credit cards are offered, will the Japanese soon have problems with large debts? What are some solutions to these possible problems?
2. Do the credit-card companies or the people who use the cards cause bankruptcies? Why?
3. Should there be a minimum age for getting a credit card? Why? If so, what age?
Ch 19:
Young Men: No Girls, No Money

Are there differences between the attitudes of men today aged 20-35 years old and men of the same age 25 years ago?

1. Why do herbivores reject the salaryman culture of total loyalty to a company and of working very hard?
2. Do you agree that herbivore men reject their fathers' beliefs? Why or why not?
3. Could herbivore men be good fathers? Why or why not?
4. Should Japan accept a more frugal definition of success?
Ch 20:
Old Media and New Media

What's the difference between old and new media?

1. If you had to choose between the old and new media, which would you choose? Why?
2. Some feel that the new media will take over all media. Will they? Why or why not?
3. Which is the most important type of old media? Why?
Ch 21:
Women in College

Who earns higher grades in American universities-men or women?

1. Will women or men do better in college in the future? Why?
2. Should women study hard and work hard, or should they become housewives? Why?
3. Will it become more common for males to stay at home and raise children while women earn money?
4. Is going to college important? Is it as important as it used to be?
Ch 22:
Gene Therapy

What do you know about gene therapy?

1. Is it moral for parents to use positive gene therapy to change their children's looks, intelligence, strength, or quickness?
2. What would happen if everyone had positive gene therapy? Is having it fair to those who do not or cannot have it?
3. If positive gene therapy works, do you think that it will become popular with people all over the world?
4. If Japan did not allow gene therapy, would many go abroad to have it? Would you go abroad to have it?

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