An Effective Lesson on “Affect” and “Effect”

How do you know when an article lends itself well to a language lesson? I look for engaging topics that will tap into existing knowledge and expand on it. I think about the language contextualized within the text and consider its usefulness for the learners I’m currently working with. Sometimes, I don’t have the opportunity to use an article immediately, but I’ll set it aside along with my thoughts on how to use it. This practice reassures me that I have lesson ideas in reserve.

Recently, I came across an online article from Scientific American about the effects a language has on the speaker’s ability to make decisions about the future. In the comment section, other readers had posted remarks about the reporter’s word choice in the headline How Your Language Affects Your Wealth and Health. Some questioned the correctness of “affects.” Should it be “effects”? I actually agree with the word choice, but because those two words are easily confused, I think a look at the headline formatted as a an exercise item would be a nice lead-in for an advanced lesson with adult learners: How Your Language (Affects / Effects) Your Wealth and Health. You can allow students to consult dictionary entries on affect and effect and ask them to decide which verb is needed.

If Step 1 in this lesson is to think about the correct word choice in the headline, then the Step 2 is to make a prediction. Based on the headline, what will this article talk about? Your questioning may follow this line of thought: “How does the grammar in your native language differ from English? Do those differences force you to think different ways when you speak these two languages? How can the structure of a particular language make you see life a certain way?”

Step 3 moves into the actual article, and after the third paragraph you can introduce the noun effect by asking, “What are the effects of delaying gratification according to the report?” According to Keith Chen of Yale Business School, we can attain our desired outcomes when we learn how to resist the temptation of immediate gratification.

The article goes on to give examples of how speakers are affected by future verb forms (e.g., will or be going to in English) or the lack thereof. If you challenge students to identify these examples as Step 4, you will be able to contextualize the use of affected as part of a passive construction.

As Step 5, you can have students read the final paragraph on page 1 as a word gap, omitting affect and effect and all their related word forms. The task of completing the text will reinforce their understanding of the different meanings and highlight collocations, such as the effect of (something) on (another thing). Indeed, it is interesting to ponder why language has such a strong effect on people’s savings rates.

The article is a bit lengthy, so I would recommend covering page 1 in class and encouraging students to read page 2 at home. As part of the lesson, Step 6 could be to have students create short class surveys in order to see if their own ability to save money confirms or refutes the findings reported in the article.

Note: Scientific American has a Photocopying Permission Request Form.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. I think the confusion about “affect” and “effect” stems from pronunciation. The first vowel is unstressed in both words so some people pronounce it as a schwa, thus leading to an interchangeable use of these words (and the subsequent mistake).

    1. Yes.The words are easily confused because of their similar spelling and pronunciation.
      For many speakers, though, “effect” has different vowel quality in that first syllable. /ɪˈfɛkt/
      Thanks for commenting!

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