Big Tech

"New technologies always reshape society, and it's always tempting to worry about them solely for this reason."

Tristan Harris, American technology ethicist
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This free ESL lesson plan on big tech 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.

Big tech companies are those that dominate their particular area of the technology market. These include Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft and Samsung. Twitter and Netflix are also sometimes considered big tech, as well as Tesla, amongst a whole host of other companies. Big tech has received a lot of attention recently, especially from governments around the world due to big tech’s ability to influence society. In the United States, Democrats have accused these companies of facilitating the spread of fake news and election interference. On the other hand, when big tech tries to moderate this content, Republicans have accused it of censorship. What cannot be denied is that big tech has changed our lives and will continue to do so in the future. In this ESL lesson plan on big tech, students will have the opportunity to discuss and express their opinions on issues such as how big tech has changed society and how much influence it has over our lives.

This lesson plan could also be used with your students to debate these issues for Safer Internet Day, which takes place in February or World Social Media Day, which takes place in June. For more lesson plans on international days and important holidays, see the calendar of world days to plan your classes for these special occasions.

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):

New Statesman | Big Tech’s power must come with greater responsibility

The article, by a British Conservative Member of Parliament, looks at how social media algorithms designed to keep us online have also played a role in the spread of vaccine conspiracies and the incitement of violence that took place at the Capitol in Washington. It also looks at how technology could also be the key to combating the negative aspects of big tech platforms. 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. The questions for the video are styled in a way similar to an exam like the IELTS.

The video for this class is a called “Section 230: The Law at the Center of the Big Tech Debate” by The Wallstreet Journal which looks at the struggles the US government is going through to introduce legislation to regulate online content on big tech platforms.

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 which companies are considered big tech, whether big tech is a threat to freedom of speech, and the difficulties big tech companies face when moderating their content.

After this, students will learn some vocabulary connected with big tech such as tech giant, self-regulation and alt-tech. 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 political ideologies. In this speaking activity, students will talk about issues such as why big tech spends millions lobbying governments, how these companies are able to avoid paying tax, and what role big tech will play in our lives in the future.

HOMEWORK

After the class, students will write about their opinion of big tech. 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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