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Why do People Do what They Do?

Sometimes it seems that understanding other people's actions is an almost impossible task. This lesson employs a student survey to focus on various motivations and explanations for different types of behavior. This conversation lesson is especially adapted to upper levels and open ended discussions. However, a certain amount of structure is important when discussing such complex subjects. This structure helps students who are less comfortable with expressing such opinions take an active role in the lesson.

Aim: Discussion of motivations for various types of human behavior - Encouraging reasoning in English

Activity: Vocabulary activation followed by student survey and discussion

Level: Advanced


  • Activate vocabulary by having students mention various important world events that have happened in the past 10 - 15 years.
  • Activate structure (sentence clauses) by taking the students' suggestions and writing statements on the board which they should then finish. For example: The Berlin Wall was torn down quickly, ...
  • Distribute the worksheet and have students get into groups of three or four. Each group should develop at least five questions on two of the subjects listed. Alternatively, groups can develop questions on one of the topics and develop a survey on a topic of their own choice.
  • Once the surveys have been developed, put students into pairs with a member from another group. Each pair should then discuss the questions on the survey and take notes on the responses.
  • Once the surveys have been taken, have students re-group and compare the results.
  • Follow-up with a class discussion of some of the more interesting and/or controversial points brought up.
Why Do People Do What They Do?

Choose two of the topics below and write five survey questions based on the chosen topic. For Example: Why do you think the Berlin Wall was torn down? A) Economic necessity B) The desire of Germans to be united C) A political attempt by the East German Government to remain in power

  • The Importance of The Global Village
  • Why People Love to Use Cell Phones
  • Peace Between Israel and Arab States
  • The Gulf War
  • The Anti-World Trade Organization Riots in Seattle
  • Asian Economic Boom
  • European Monetary Union
  • The Importance of Monica Lewinsky
  • The Greenhouse Effect
  • The Explosion of Technology Stock Prices
  • Equality of Men and Women in the Workplace
  • The Collapse of the Soviet Union
  • The Inability of the US Government to Pass Global Health Care Coverage
  • The Rise of Immigration from Developing Nations to Industrialized Nations

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