At the beginning of my ESL classes, I often hand out strips of paper with a single warm-up question that can be answered relatively quickly (I haven’t timed them, but I think the average is 10 seconds). This gives students an incentive to arrive on time to get a few points and partake in an interesting warm-up discussion. Some examples: What do you often dream about? What is your greatest fear? If you changed your name, what would it be? Recently, I gave them this question:
How much money do you need to be happy?
They quickly began to pencil in their answers; as each student finished, I collected their strips of paper. One student was taking longer than the usual 10 seconds. We joked that he must be writing quite a lot of zeros! He turned his in and we discussed the amounts everyone had written. The lowest was “$20” – the highest was a tie between “too much” and “whatever Jeff Bezos has.”
Then I asked them, “Do you know of a word in English to describe an amount so large that it can’t even be counted..?” Being ESL students, they were stumped, so I explained that they can use the term “a zillion.” I then passed out zillion dollar bills. They beamed and were amazed because they look and feel like real money. One student said, “Wow! Now I can quit my job!” Another said, “I’m going to buy a house – and I’ll be getting some change back!” One asked “How many zeros are in a zillion?”
I asked them, “So, now do you feel happier?”
The answer was a resounding “Yes!”
For a few minutes, these students smiled and laughed together, helping to build connections and community in the classroom, something that just may bring more happiness than a zillion dollars.