Conspiracy Theories

"Don't believe everything you read on the internet."

Abraham Lincoln (1809 – 1865), 16th president of the United States
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This free ESL lesson plan on conspiracy theories 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.

In the past, conspiracy theories were consigned to those still living in their parents’ basement. These days, conspiracy theories have entered the mainstream and are even pushed by those in the highest offices of power. A rapidly changing world is a scary thing, and conspiracy theories give comfort to those who believe in them as they to provide an explanation for why the bad things in the world happen. But conspiracy theories exist for a reason, and they know exactly who to target. Conspiracy theories, in addition to fake news, science denial and disinformation serve a purpose. Trace them back to their origins, and you’ll find someone getting rich off the back of vulnerable people. In this ESL lesson plan on conspiracy theories, students will have the opportunity to discuss and express their opinions on issues such as why people believe in conspiracies, and what effect these have on society.

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):

The Week | Strange conspiracy theories: from 5G to Meghan Markle

The article contains a list of some of the most common conspiracy theories that people believe, including big pharma withholding the cure for cancer, aliens building Stonehenge, and that there is a reptilian elite controlling the world. 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 “Why Are Conspiracy Theories So Popular?” by HuffPost which looks at some of the reasons why so many people believe in conspiracy theories, especially after electoral defeats or terrorist attacks.

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 famous conspiracy theories, conspiracies that turned out to be true, and how conspiracy theories can be dangerous.

After this, students will learn some vocabulary connected with conspiracy theories such as debunk, hoax and sheeple. 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 conspiracy theories. In this speaking activity, students will talk about issues such as how conspiracy theories are used for political purposes, why so many conspiracy theories have their roots in antisemitism, and correlation and causation.

HOMEWORK

After the class, students will write about their opinion of conspiracy theories. 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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