English for scientists: Advanced TEFL Lesson Plan – Gaming Research

English for scientists is not the typical textbook title that you see in the TEFL section of your local educational bookshop, is it?

When I lived in Germany, I taught at The Max Planck Institute and I always had to create my own lesson materials as I could never find anything suitable in normal ELT textbooks that would interest the scientists and researchers and make it worth their while to leave their laboratories to attend an English class. The very well educated people in the Max Planck English groups had a very high level of English and as anyone knows who has taught ‘very advanced’, it can be a challenge to actually ‘teach’ something to students that are near-fluent, but still want to improve, or at least maintain, their level of English.

I just came across a nanotechnology scientific article in The Guardian and remembered my time coming up with lesson ideas for my group of researchers, so I thought I’d try to make a quick lesson plan to help any EFL teachers in the world out there who may be in a similar situation. I have adapted the text to make the content somewhere around C1 – C2 CEFR level. The whole lesson is here in this blogpost and it is also available as a free download below for you to print off.

After the article discussion questions, there is an ACADEMIC WRITING TASK to encourage the use of pre-modified nouns to make your students’ register more formal, academic and scientific. The answers are in this blogpost, but NOT in the downloadable pdf.

Let me know in the comments section below how the lesson went if you decide to use it. Thanks.

What do you think about computer games? Are you ‘into’ them?
In your opinion, are video games useful in a young child’s development?
Are games consoles detrimental to teenage boys’ social skills development?
Or does ‘gaming’ enhance problem solving skills that can be put to good use in real-life?

Read the article below and then describe/summarise the project in your own words.

ARTICLE: GAMING RESEARCH (adapted from Gaming For Good)
Playing online computer games doesn’t necessarily have to be a waste of time. Recently, scientists have taken to creating games playable by anyone with an internet connection, to assist in solving complex problems, such as protein folding and huge undertakings, for instance, mapping neuron connections in the brain.

The latest initiative in this vein is, a game developed by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Nanodoc, to find innovative ways of using nanoparticles to combat cancer. Nanoparticles can transport drugs directly to cancerous tumours, leaving healthy tissue intact, but the research challenge is to identify the best nanoparticle design or combination to achieve this aim. The MIT team developed an online game where players can discover new combinations in which nanoparticles can interact with each other and ‘swarm’ or home in on tumours efficiently. It is hoped that players might stumble upon promising designs, which the MIT researchers will then put to the test under laboratory conditions.

Does this project sound promising, or is it just a gimmick/publicity stunt?
Will the project achieve its objective (treating cancer with nanoparticles)? Can we afford to be optimistic?
Is crowdsourcing the way forward for research projects (that are possibly underfunded without sufficient researchers)?
Has there been any research project that you have ever been involved in that could have benefitted from this type crowdsourcing?
Is the game interesting from a research point of view, or is it too simplistic to potentially benefit real-world experiments/research?
What is the likelihood of a member of the general public (not a bio-engineer or researcher) finding an innovative nanoparticle design through this game?

Academic Writing: Compound (pre-modified) nouns
Make a compound noun from the words in the sentence to make your writing more academic.
EXAMPLE: The windows in the corner are cracked.
– The corner windows are cracked.

1. The results of the tests from September were abnormal.
2. Going online to play games on your computer can be addictive.
3. Interactions between dislocations and defects are very interesting.
4. The technician in the lab doesn’t work well in the team because he doesn’t have enough experience.
5. The lab leader, who was born in Germany, speaks seven languages and has decades of experience, has had problems with his subordinates being rebellious, even though he is famous in his field.

1. The September test results were abnormal. or…. Abnormal test results were found in September.
2. Playing online computer games can be addictive.
3. Dislocation-defect interactions are very interesting.
4. The inexperienced lab technician does not work well in the team.
5. The famous, highly-experienced, multi-lingual German lab leader has had problems with his rebellious subordinates.


English for scientists_TEFL Advanced Lesson_Gaming Research.pdf


Bren Brennan

About Bren Brennan

Bren initially trained here at SGI and then joined the staff in 2005. Since 2006, he has taught abroad in Budapest, Berlin and now at Mondragon University in Spain. He returns to teach at SGI London every summer and completed the SGI Trinity DipTESOL in 2011. He also regularly writes posts for students here.
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