Social Capital

Building Relationships professionally and personally

Social capital

Nowadays most only focus on the financial aspects of everything.  Kids are raised to think that life is all about money and making lots of it.  Less value is placed on relationships and making meaningful ones.  It seems that once we become adults and leave our school years behind, many people seem to lose interest in building up their social capital and network of people they share interests with, hobbies, or professional aspirations.  With that said, I decided recently that it would be a good idea to have a lesson on this topic and try to reinforce the importance of social capital and relationships in our lives.

This lesson is mostly meant to cover our professional lives but also a bit of the personal as well.  However, students do tend to mention family members a lot when asked about their most important relationships so I tried to emphasize that this is not a lesson about family because after you’ve covered the meaningful, important, beneficial relationships students have in their lives you need to hit them with the “social capital” and ask them about “building” new relationships. Boom. So without further ado here is the lesson plan.

Start by telling students that the topic is “building relationships” and write it on the board.  Alternatively you can write social capital and ask them to tell you what it means, most don’t know.  Explain that it refers to the networking and relationships we build around us and its size. Emphasize that it doesn’t only refer to professional networking but also personal ones when related to interests and hobbies you may share with others but who are not necessarily your closest friends.  From here, ask them what a mind map is.  Some will know, but many will not, sadly.  Draw a mind map with your name circled and then lines extending from it in different directions.  Explain that you want them to make their own mind maps so they have a visual of the relationships they have in their lives.  Give them the categories: Work, Friends, Other.  The work category needs to be broken down into coworkers, teammates, bosses, clients/customers, suppliers etc.  You can brainstorm vocabulary that describes different relationships for this:

Mate, workmate, teammate, flat-mate, roommate, colleague, coworker, friend, acquaintance, relative, associate, close/best friend, buddy, bro etc.

Explain that you really want them to develop this because depending on your job or position in the same company your mind map will look quite different.  The friends section can be branched off with friends from school, high school, college, work, or different countries etc.  They don’t need to include everyone.

Once everyone has their mind map they know have a visual they can refer to while discussing the topic. At this stage I give them the vocabulary they will use for the lesson. Either write them scrambled on the board, on pieces of paper, or on the projector to save time.

Break off, build up, cement, cloud, cut-off, develop, disrupt, encourage, establish, impair, improve, jeopardize, maintain, promote, restore, resume, sever, sour, spoil, strengthen

Ask them to categorize these into positive and negative meanings.  They all collocate with “relations”.  Though this shouldn’t be too difficult there will be questions on some of these so be prepared to explain and provide some examples to clarify.  Words like jeopardize, cement, sever, sour, impair will require explanations. Make sure to point out that some can be synonyms so there’s not a difference in meaning between all of them.  Equipped with these words ask students to know describe their mind maps to their partner in pairs while using some of the language. For instance – which relationships do you try to maintain/promote/ build up why? Are there any in your mind map that you try to establish and strengthen? Maybe because of the work you do….  Once they have discussed their mind maps and you’ve hopefully heard them using the language ask them to talk about what kind of circumstances would jeopardize/ spoil/ disrupt/ spoil these relations? Remind them this is just practice so they can pretend for the sake of using the language and practicing it in class.

At this stage you can draw a line on the board and write “very good” on one end and “very bad” at the other end.  Write these words on the board:

Amicable, excellent, friendly, stormy, strained, cool, close

Tell students to put them on the line based on their meaning.  These words also collocate with “relations”.

Now tell students to describe their mind maps to a new partner and to tell them about which relationships are the most important to them and why, as well as what are the benefits of each of these relationships. Instruct them to use the vocabulary I mentioned above while they are discussing it. Give this a few minutes.

You can ask students to make some sentences using the vocabulary covered. Some ideas for what to write about can be:

  • their country and another country
  • their company and its customers
  • their department and the of the company the work for
  • two well-known celebrities or politicians

Ask students to compare with new partners their sentences and then get some feedback and put some on the board.  Praise students for well-constructed sentences.

Now comes the juice.

From here you move on to social capital.  Explain to them that they have discussed the relationships they have but what about building new relationships?

What about building up their social capital now?

As kids in school we are always trying to make new friends, the more the better. As adults it seems that we, at some point, decide that this is no longer necessary.

Ask students to discuss if this is worth the time spent or are the benefits minimal and not worth the effort? What can be gained from building our social capital, professionally and/or personally?

If students struggle with this, tell them if building their social capital through social networks (Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn) can help them connect with people who share personal ambitions/ hobbies/ interests as they do? Is it artificial? Dependable? Why?

Try to reach a consensus on this if possible, and wrap up the lesson.  There is enough here for 60 minutes easy! Corporate and business type lessons are ideal for this, with small groups, to allow for some open discussion.

If you like including some reading text in your lessons there is this which offers ten reasons on the importance of business relationships. You can easily cut and paste this onto a word doc and then cut it up into slips of paper to distribute in class, asking students to then discuss what their slips of paper talk about.  They can then discuss afterwards if these tips apply to our personal lives as well.

Personally, I couldn’t think of a more worthwhile and valuable topic.  There is some great vocabulary, a chance to make a mind map, plentiful conversation practice, and even some writing as well as reading if you can fit it all in or break it up into two lessons.  Hope you find this lesson useful.  Remember you can like the page on Facebook to get additional resources for listening and reading as well on teaching in general. That’s it for now peeps.

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