What the internet is doing to our brains

Classroom activities

Here you’ll find some practical ideas for working with the clip. Choose the ones that suit your teaching aims, particular group of learners, your teaching style, and then plan your own lesson.


‘Mystery X’

Ask your students what ‘X’ might stand for in the following sentence:

‘X is a great servant but a dangerous master.’

Note: There is no correct solution here. It could be e.g. technology, the internet, ambition, the ego, money, power, etc.

‘Change topic, change direction’

Put the following on the board: ‘Topic 1: Machines    Topic 2: People’ 

Do a brainstorm chain – the next student in the circle or in the row has to say a word or an expression related to the topic. There are two rules:

1. If someone calls out ‘Change topic!’ the one to continue needs to change over to the other topic.

2. If someone calls out ‘Change direction’, the chain reverses direction.

You can’t change topic or direction if it’s your turn to say a word.

Note: This is a high-energy brainstorming activity which usually creates a lot of laughter. Students usually enjoy the power that they can change topic or direction.


‘Strangers- Acquaintances- Friends Dictation’

Tell your students that words can be divided into three categories based on how well they’ve mastered them:

  • STRANGERS:               words they come across for the first time
  • ACQUAINTANCES:     words they can recognise but would not be able to use confidently
  • FRIENDS:                     words they can use confidently in sentences of their own

Then ask them to create 3 columns on a sheet of paper with these 3 categories. You will now dictate some words and they have to write them in the appropriate column:

superficial / shallow / predator / attention / distraction / pre-historic age / compulsive / constantly / contemplation / consolidation / awesome / undivided attention / unplug / focus / information-rich environment

After the dictation, students can ask about the words in the acquaintances and strangers columns.  Then ask students to listen for these words in the clip.

Note: I first came across this categorisation of lexical items in a book by Mario Rinvolucri.


‘Four Corners’

Put up a statement in each corner of the room. A: ‘I’m fully in control of when I how I use the internet.’  B: ‘I often lose track of time and spend much longer on the internet than I had planned to.’ C: ‘The advantages of the internet far outweigh the potential dangers.’ D: ‘I think the internet is making us forget how to communicate face-to-face’. Ask the students to choose one of the corners, go stand there and justify their choice. This can be done in corner-groups, or as a whole-class activity with the teacher ‘interviewing’ some of the students.

 ‘Reflect & Share’

Ask your students to reflect on one of the key sentences of the clip:

What does learning matter if all the information in the world is just a google search away?’

1. What’s the difference between information and knowledge?

2. What’s the difference between knowledge and wisdom?

Then ask them to share their ideas in small groups or as a whole class.

‘Creative User’s Manual’

Divide your students into groups of 3-4 and ask them to come up with a User’s Manual for a smartphone. Their manual should be a kind of ‘Dos’ and ‘Don’ts’ list of how we can make sure that a smartphone remains our servant, rather than becoming our master.


2 Responses to What the internet is doing to our brains

  1. Bill Templer April 26, 2014 at 9:55 am #

    1. Devise an anonymous questionnaire for students on how they use a smartphone or tablet, if they have one. In some countries, only a small percentage of the population accesses Internet using a smartphone or tablet. What about among your own students?

    2. ‘Facebook behavior’ has become an obsession for more than a few. It could be added os another specific corner to the post-viewing ‘Four Corners’ activity. For some it is ‘Facebook addiction.’

    3. On ‘Four Corners’, there is the corner ‘the advantages of the Internet far outweigh the potential dangers.’ Nicholas Carr talks about the need to “think conceptually, think critically, think is some very creative way” (min. 3:18-22). Among Internet advantages is the obvious fact of GREAT LIBRARY: there’s a huge amountl of very conceptual, critical material online. Whole books, innumerable essays, interviews, youtube presentations that make you think and change your ideas about society, the economy, the way school is organized, just about everything. eLesson Inspirations are precisely focused on that. Ready access to ideas no one would ever hear at school, at home, in their neighborhood, among their friends, in the mainstream media on TV or radio.
    Is what we find on the Net mainly just ‘information’? Not ideas, arguments, critical analysis of something? Perhaps some of us suffer from ‘idea overload’ because of the Internet. But is that a danger? Does Nicholas Carr address this in his brief video?

    4. The video begins by showing someone in parody jumping from one frame to another on Internet, what is sometimes called ‘multitasking’. Some people think ‘multitasking;’ is a good skill, not a frenetic ‘distraction.’ TIME magazine had an article some years ago entitled “genM: The Multitasking Generation”. Some students could find and read that. Are they part of that ‘genM’? How do they see this?

    5. Ask students to read this extract from a survey done in Bulgaria, regarding ‘Internet addiction’:

    “Internet has become an integral part of life of young people in Bulgaria with signs of growing internet addiction, according to a recent poll, ‘Media Behavior of Young People in the Online Environment’ […] Nearly 25% said they get nervous, don’t know what to do, and/ or feel very uncomfortable when not connected to the internet. This applies to half of the youngest respondents, between the ages of 15 and 17.

    Currently, the share of net users among young adults (15-29 years of age) in Bulgaria is 85%, and among the youngest (15-17 years of age) – 91%, the study found. 42% of surveyed youth said they use the net every day, while 25% responded that they are almost constantly connected.

    Internet has changed the physical reality of young people – they spend more time in cyberspace, some of them practically live on the web. Every fourth young Bulgarian is almost constantly online, according to the study. Nearly half of respondents have not read a single book last year and 14% have never read a book.”

    ==> You can search this short article “Bulgarian Youth Are ‘Internet Addicted’ – Poll” online. Students can read and wonder about how it reflects their own reality.
    How many of your own students are no longer reading books, or have never [!] read a book cover to cover? How are they using school and local libraries? Or is the Internet their main library? They can Google ‘Internet addicted’ and find other related articles and discussions. On youtube, the search ‘Internet addicted’ will generate a number of different videos.

    6. What is ‘addiction’ in regard to media behavior (including cell phones)? Nicholas Carr mentions ‘addiction’ on p. 35 in his book THE SHALLOWS. He doesn’t use the term in the video here. He talks about ‘compulsive’ behavior. What is a ‘Web junkie’?

    7. What is ‘cyber-overload’? Many of us are swirling in it. Ditto for our students, especially those from socioeconomic backgrounds where they can afford smartphones, tablets, Wi-Fi and numerous Apps. Ask students to search ‘cyber-overload’ on Google. What do they find? They can also search ‘Joanne Cantor, CONQUER CYBER OVERLOAD’ and find an interview with the author of this book by that title. What does Joanne recommend? Is she talking about something different from what Nicholas Carr focuses on?

    8. Many young people (and indeed of any age) are spending too much time sitting in front of a monitor or tablet screen. The negative physical result is overweight, obesity, lack of exercise, tendency to get sick more easily. In some office workers, early arthritis This is an effect of computers that is not about what it is “doing to our brains” but to our whole body. Students (and teachers) could also discuss that

  2. Sherryl June 23, 2014 at 2:50 pm #

    This really is genuinely wonderful! Thanks a lot as well as
    carry on this very good work!!

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