In this activity, students are introduced to TED.com, the website of the decade. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design. The website is a repository of talks and presentations from the TED conference in which the world’s most creative educators, businessmen, politicians, scientists, artists, etc, are all represented. Talks generally last 20 minutes and the site gives users access to transcriptions of the presentations. For this activity, I have chosen Dan Pink‘s surprising science of motivation.
- Language level: Intermediate; Upper intermediate
- Learner type: Teens; Adults; Business
- Time: 30 minutes + homework
- Activity: Speaking; Listening
- Topic: Motivation & incentives
- Language: Business language associated with incentives (commission, bonus, pay rise, etc)
- Materials: Video; Worksheet
Lesson plan outline
It will help if you plan for this activity by familiarizing yourself with Dan Pink’s presentation. The PDF download contains a summary of the structure which can help. You may also want to bring into the classroom the components of the candle problem (see step 3 below).
- On the board write ‘carrot and stick’. Find out if your students know what this well-known image refers to.
- Brainstorm carrots and sticks that people come into contact with in life. Write ideas on the board under two headings (‘carrots’ and ‘sticks’). For business students, make sure that you include the following: pay rise, bonus, commission, promotion, perks, losing your job.
- Tell students that you want to introduce them to a famous psychology test. Introduce students to the components of the candle problem and teach the words if necessary (a candle, some thumbtacks, a book of matchsticks). Find out if anyone has ever heard of the candle problem and if so, politely ask them to keep quiet at this stage.
- Tell students that their task is to fix the candle to the wall and light it so that the wax doesn’t drip onto the table or floor below. Make sure that students understand what is required of them: ask them to repeat the task back to you and clarify any uncertainties that they may have.
- Do not give students access to the objects (if you brought them into the classroom). This will require them to verbalise their solutions rather than use the objects to show you. Ask students to write down their ideas. Tell them that the candle problem can be solved in approximately 20 words. Do not give them the solution yet.
- Let students read out and share their answers. Find out how many people successfully worked out the solution. Correct language if necessary.
- Ask students how difficult the problem was to solve. Ask them how long they took to see the solution. Tell them that the test was created to demonstrate a phenomenon called functional fixedness. Ask students if they can guess or work out what that means.
- Dictate the following to clarify the concept of functional fixedness:
- Tell students that the candle problem has also been used in the science of incentives and motivation. Give out copies of the worksheet Glucksberg’s experiments (included in the PDF download) and ask students what they would imagine the results of the two experiments to be.
- Let students share ideas. Tell them that you are going to play an excerpt from a presentation by a man called Dan Pink. Play the video from 01:50 and pause it at 06:18 just after Dan says: “This time the incentivised group kicked the other group’s butt! Why?”
- Allow students to share and compare what they understood. Offer to play the clip a second time.
- Go back to the worksheet and make sure that students understood the results of the two experiments (i.e. that the cash incentive had a negative effect in the first experiment but a positive effect in the second experiment).
- Ask students if they can explain the experiments and work out the implications of them, especially in a business context.
The carrot and stick image refers to rewards and punishments, and exists across many cultures. Think of a donkey receiving a juicy carrot incentive for a good day’s work or being slapped with a stick for an unproductive one.
To solve the problem, you have to use thumbtacks to attach the matchbox to the wall and use it as a platform for the candle.
Functional fixedness is a type of mental block. You see the matchbox only as a receptacle for the thumbtacks. You fail to see it as having a useful function for solving the problem. In order to overcome functional fixedness, you have to ‘think outside the box.’
- Ask students to watch the full presentation at home and complete the homework sheet provided in the PDF download.
- Ask students to find out about Dan Pink and write up his CV (inventing details when necessary.)
- Use the clip to study presenting styles and techniques. Ask students to watch Dan and describe details relating to his voice, body position, hand and arm movement, gesture, etc.