Sketchnotes for language teachers

Never heard of sketchnotes? A heads-up in a great TED talk

Here's one that I suggested in my session at the IH Barcelona ELT Conference back in February (yes, I've been kinda busy since 😉 !). I suggested sketchnoting for anyone who ever has to attend conferences and listen to presentations (etc), but also because some of the ideas behind it are of interest to presenters — and also to teachers in general.

My experience of language teaching is that as teachers we buy into the bullshit that "a picture is worth a thousand words" and assume that that means we use Google Images for everything — job done!

Wrong! Images are only worth a thousand words if you put them to work, and drawing live, in front of learners is doing that — using drawing to convey and clarify meaning and ideas and so on. And, as I suggested in my session, it's not just the teachers, but also the learners that can be doing the drawing.

In language teaching, where we're not lecturing (hopefully 😉 !), my suggestion is that we're not so much really sketchnoting as pinching the idea that drawing can be a powerful tool to aid understanding and learning.

My colleague at IH Barcelona Susana Ortiz suggested to me a couple of great examples of how sketching ideas could be used in language teaching. With trainees on pre-service courses for Spanish teachers, Susana gets them to illustrate how "communication" occurs by using circles and arrows; and with learners on Spanish courses, gets them to illustrate the difference between ser and estar with simple drawings (try the same with bring and take, if you teach English, to give you another example.)

Below, a further example, which I use when attempting to explain to trainees how we get swamped by too information on social media, and how we need to (a) "follow" fewer people and (b) "engage" with those we do follow somehow, either by actually using what we "like" or by engaging in actual dialogue with them (via tweets or blog comments, for example):

Diagrammatically:

Drowning in social media

The vicious circle of find-like-forget… Because on social media you forget the minute you instantly find something else

See also this post for a further example of a simple diagram to illustrate a complex idea to pre-service teachers.

More on sketchnotes
Sunni Brown's book, The Doodle Revolution (Amazon.co.uk), is one that I can recommend both for the arguments it puts forward but also because it will help you get started doodling — and sketchnoting.

And some great links:

10 tips for success with classroom drawing

By classroom drawing I mean the teacher and/or learners drawing quick, simple, not necessarily “good” or realistic doodles to illustrate activities of all kinds, and which are going to help us to convey or explain language or concepts, and which can also be used in activities that will generate lots of use and practice of language.

I repeat: and/or learners — because classroom drawing shouldn't just be about what the teacher does; nothing in a classroom should just be that! You'll see that most of the drawing activities previously proposed here on this blog have in fact been that: things that the learner, not the teacher, draws.

Success with classroom drawing
To succeed with classroom drawing (perhaps we should really call it classroom doodling), we need to be clear about what (a) what is required and (b) what our objectives are.

Classroom Drawing 101

Required for classroom drawing: practice, which gives confidence, which gives success. Not required, talent

Objectives of classroom drawing

Objectives: #1, explaining and generating language. NOT an objective: realism

Once we have those things clear in our minds, then we're already on the road to success. Once we and/or our learners have pens in our hands and we plug them into our imagination, we have a super-powerful, multi-purpose tool that offers us infinite possibilities in language teaching and learning.

After that, once you’ve set your sights artistically low but linguistically high, the following tips will take you a long way further down the road.

Tips

  1. Get yourself a set of cheap drawing pens with different nibs (I like 0.3, 0.5, 0.7 and something thicker), and use them appropriately (e.g. 0.3 or smaller for eyes, 0.7 for a very dark beard or hair, for example
  2. If you want to do flashcards, however, visible from the back of the classroom, grab paper from the recycle bin (ideally A3 size) and go for a nice thick board marker
  3. With each object you draw, know what your best possible starting point is, and build the rest of the drawing up from there
  4. Build up a repertoire of things you have practised and can confidently reproduce as and when required, including a set of standard “people” in different poses (like stick figures), animals, vehicles, places (beaches, forests, dentists' waiting rooms, dentists’ chairs
). Keep your eye out — everywhere! — for illustrations you can copy and use
  5. But never be afraid to have a go at something totally new, even in front of a class, or be scared of messing up or embarrassing yourself (if you never draw a space rocket or submarine, you won’t 😉 !) or of having people laugh at your drawings
 People laughed? Hey! You want laughter in a classroom!
  6. If necessary, go back home and find out (the Internet is a wonderful place — at times!) how you really draw (say) a crocodile, and then practise that
  7. Adding "clipart" to your search will give you lots of copiable illustrations – eg “clipart dog”; pick the simplest and if necessary, simplify those further
  8. Keep adding to your repertoire (if you think “The only thing I can draw is an elephant”, or whatever, you need to get yourself some practice doing other stuff!)
  9. At my Conference session back in February, I gave away some desk-top, page-a-day diaries that our sponsors were kind enough to let me have. A doodle a day, five minutes a day, is a brilliant way to improve your drawing skills
  10. Putting your work on a blog or Instagram (even if you share it with only a few people) is something that will make a huge difference as it will motivate you to reach higher

Practice is the key. Practice leads to improvement — as these amazing examples on Bored Panda demonstrate.

And it's vital to understand this:

It's not a question of having the ability to draw anything. Rather, it's a question of giving yourself the practice to have the courage to try to draw things that might convey and clarify meaning; convey ideas; add interest, generate language, etc.

Here you have ideas for activities that use classroom drawing and we have further activities (content in Spanish) on our Spanish teacher training blog.

A crazy class in football crazy Barcelona

Football crazy

Here's one that was a one-off but a lot of fun (if a bit crazy!): an impromptu, unplanned, materials- and preparation-free class that came about when two students and I failed to find a bar (in the centre of Barcelona !!!) to watch the Manchester City vs Real Madrid Champions semi final and ended up following it via the text commentary on four different mobile devices, each connected to a different website — left to right, above, The Guardian, The BBC, Marca.com and (not shown) El Mundo Deportivo.

With the first beer, the conversation got on to which of the four would update first and which we could trust to give an unbiased account of the game and it just kind of developed from there — with a fair bit of translation being required (not necessary a bad thing, if you ask me); a lot of working out meaning from context; and lot of new vocabulary; a lot of wanting to understand the text(-s); a lot of fun, not to mention quite a lot of beer and patatas bravas!

You could do the same thing after the event, by painstakingly copying the commentaries and printing them out (etc) but your learners would probably already know the result and so there wouldn't be the excitement of that.

There were eventually four of us, two (myself included) self-confessed haters of all things football, and one who is (I quote) "proud to neither know nor care anything about football". Fun also, for the two fans to have to explain what was happening to her (and why they were getting so excited about it).

I'm not sure it would work in a larger group, but if you happen to have a private class that kicks off at 20.45 on a Champions night, with someone crazy about football, entertaining!

Gardening, cycling and life: a fun activity making lists

Miles of pain

Here's an idea that Andrew Wright suggested in his recently session at IATEFL: to, first, get your learners to list everything they know about gardening; and, then as a discussion activity, to talk about how that could be related to life.

As I live and work in Barcelona, where virtually no one has a garden, I picked cycling for the example (image, above) that I created to show to the group I tried this with. And I let them pick literally any of their own interests.

I instructed them to list, among other things, the slightly bizarre, slightly nerdy, slightly tongue-in-cheek things about their hobby (my example was that the only really good thing about cycling is the amount of food you get to eat!). I also asked them to make all the items on their lists impersonal — achieved in part by pairing them as far as possible so that two people were creating the list on a hobby they shared.

Probably best as a task for adults rather than my teenagers (could you relate painting Warhammer figures to life 😉 ?).

My idea was to get them to use their phones, and the pictures I was hoping they would have there, to illustrate the whole thing. The Over app would have been brilliant for adding captions but we didn't in the end get there.

Footnote
We used pen and paper to create the list, but list.ly is a great alternative if you want to do activities with lists.

See also my article on OneStopEnglish for 10 fun tasks with lists (subscription or 30-day free trial required).

Hand over the tools: technology for learners, not teachers

My presentation for OneStopEnglish at IATEFL 2016, in Birmingham last Saturday.

For OneStopEnglish, I have written a series of articles on tasks which involve the learners, not the teachers, using technology either inside or outside the classroom.

The articles, for a wide variety of levels and ages, include around 70 different tasks learners can do and share these three characteristics:

  • They have the learners not the teacher using the technology
  • They involve using only a minimum amount of technology
  • They are designed to produce a maximum amount of interaction and use of language

In his plenary session the previous day, Andrew Wright was talking about learners creating their own stories and said this:

They're not doing it for you, they're doing it with you, for themselves.

21st century technology allows people to do precisely that — or at least it does if you the teacher take your hands off the mouse and keyboard, and hand over the technology to your learners.

Subscription is required for full access to OneStopEnglish. but you can also have a free 30-day trial, and school access is another possibility- As there are over 9,000 resources there, it's a site I highly recommend.