Automation

“The way you deal with automation is by upgrading people's skills so they can get the jobs of the future.”

John Delaney, American politician
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LESSON OVERVIEW

This free ESL lesson plan on automation has been designed for adults and young adults at an intermediate (B1/B2) to advanced (C1/C2) level and should last around 45 to 60 minutes for one student.

Automation is the removal of human involvement in processes. While this has led to the creation of new jobs in the past, today’s automation is not creating anywhere near as many new jobs. This puts us in a difficult situation. Automation will happen whether we like it or not, and if some predictions are to be believed, around 50% of the tasks performed by humans today will be performed by robots or computer software within the next five to 20 years. This could result in a society where people only work half as much time as they do today, but considering you laughed out loud when you read that, a more likely scenario would be mass unemployment the likes of which we’ve never experienced. What kind of a society would that be like to live in? In this ESL lesson plan on automation, students will have the opportunity to discuss and express their opinions on issues such as what automation is and how it will affect society in the not-too-distant future.

For advice on how to use this English lesson plan and other lesson plans on this site, see the guide for ESL teachers.

PRE-CLASS ACTIVITIES

Reading activity
Before the English class, send the following article to the students and ask them to read it while making a list of any new vocabulary or phrases they find (explain any the students don’t understand in the class):

WeForum | A short history of jobs and automation

The article looks at the history of how automation has affected the job market from 16th century looms to 20th century car manufacturing. It also looks at possible future effects of automation on jobs including a prediction from PwC that 30% of jobs could be lost by the early 2030s. At the start of the class, hold a brief discussion about what the students thought about the article. What do they think about the issues raised in the article? Do they agree with what was said? Can they think of any ways they might disagree with the content of the article?

Video activity
To save time in class for the conversation activities, the English teacher can ask the students to watch the video below and answer the listening questions in Section 3 of the lesson plan at home. There are intermediate listening questions and advanced listening questions so teachers can decide which would be more appropriate for their students. Check the answers in the class.

The video for this class is called “The Rise of the Machines – Why Automation is Different this Time” by Kurzgesagt which compares the automation processes of the past with those we are currently experiencing, and how, unlike in the past, the current level of automation could have disastrous consequences for society.

Courtesy of kurzgesagt.org

IN-CLASS ACTIVITIES

The focus in the class is on conversation in order to help improve students’ fluency and confidence when speaking in English as well as boosting their vocabulary.

This lesson opens with a short discussion about the article the students read before the class. Next, the students can give their opinion on the quote at the beginning of the lesson plan – what they think the quote means and if they agree with it. This is followed by an initial discussion on the topic including how automation or artificial intelligence could help the students in their jobs, what humans will always be better at than computers, and how automation could revolutionise healthcare and agriculture.

After this, students will learn some vocabulary connected with automation such as future-proof, machine learning and self-driving. This vocabulary has been chosen to boost the students’ knowledge of less common vocabulary that could be useful for preparing for English exams like IELTS or TOEFL. The vocabulary is accompanied by a cloze activity and a speaking activity to test the students’ comprehension of these words.

If the students didn’t watch the video before the class, they can watch it after the vocabulary section and answer the listening questions. Before checking the answers, ask the students to give a brief summary of the video and what they thought about the content.

Finally, there is a more in-depth conversation about automation. In this speaking activity, students will talk about issues such as the jobs that will be automated in the future, what a baby born today should study at university to guarantee future employment, and whether automation will result in mass unemployment and the effect this will have on society.

HOMEWORK

After the class, students will write about their opinion of automation. This could be a short paragraph or a longer piece of writing depending on what level the student is at. The writing activity is designed to allow students to practise and improve their grammar with the feedback from their teacher. For students who intend to take an international English exam such as IELTS or TOEFL, there is an alternative essay question to practise their essay-writing skills.

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