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).

Fun activity with cats and dogs and a biro

In my session this coming weekend at the IH Barcelona ELT Conference (February 5 and 6), I'm going to be talking about how both teachers and learners can use simple drawings in some fun, language-rich activities.

Here's one that requires both you and your learners to be able to draw cats and/or dogs. If you don't think you could do that, here's a simple cat that you can quickly teach yourself to copy; you'll then find a simple dog at the foot of this post.

What you're really doing is not so much draw as represent

How to draw a simple cat
Below, you have a step-by-step for an easy cat. Key to lots of classroom drawings is to pick the right starting point: here, start with the face, and after that it should all fall into place.

Classroom cat

As with all classroom drawings (which used to be called "blackboard drawings" when I started out as a teacher), what you're really doing is not so much draw as represent. And, as Andrew Wright, suggested in his wonderful book, you're copying, not drawing.

The activity, step-by-step
Colleagues and I have tried the following at various time (some going back a long time!) from roughly A2 level up to and including C2 and it's one that has worked well with both teens and adults.

  1. Make sure everyone knows how to draw a cat and a dog, teaching them if necessary. Draw my examples for them, with appropriate explanations and running commentary and you've got a live listening comprehension activity.
  2. Get the class to divide themselves into 4 roughly equal groups, of dog-lovers, dog-haters, cat-lovers and cat-haters. Anyone who says they have no feelings one way or the other must be persuaded and recruited into one of the four groups. If the groups are not of approximately equal size, have the smaller groups try to persuade others to join them. (It doesn't actually really matter what size the groups are, or how disproportionate they are, but what we want as language teachers is discussion and use of language!)
  3. On a square piece of paper (square so that it can be easily Instagrammed afterwards, you understand 😉 !), each learner should draw a cat or a dog, depending on which group they now find themselves in. I like to limit drawing time to 60 seconds maximum. This is not an art class!
  4. They should then pair up, pick the "best" cat / dog and collaborate to add to the piece of paper everything which they know or think about cats or dogs — cat lovers and cat haters writing about cats, dog lovers and dog haters about dogs, for example:

    What's wrong with dogs
    I'm not a big fan of dogs, as you can see 😉 !

  5. Share the work produced — either by just showing it to other people (great for a "mingle" activity!), or by posting the pictures on a wall or by photographing them and sharing them via Instagram or an Edmodo or WhatsApp group etc.
  6. Comment on the drawings and on the ideas included, either orally or digitally (the latter possibly outside class time, not necessarily in real time)
  7. Discuss the topic of which make better pets, cats or dogs.
  8. Optionally, get the learners to produce a piece of discursive writing on the subject, of appropriate length.
  9. Optionally, have the learners make a very brief, collaborative, formal presentation to the class of their conclusions

What does drawing add?

The sharing makes your classroom a creative space in
which we generate things we then share together, which is terrific for group dynamics

You could of course do the activity without anyone drawing anything but requiring the drawing adds a lot:

  • it makes the activity way more fun
  • it seems to generate a whole lot more language ("What's that supposed to be?! / It's supposed to be…" often prove to be useful expressions!)
  • its seems to generate more ideas
  • it generate more creative, more original ideas
  • it leads to the creation of artwork
  • the artwork can then be shared and commented on afterwards, if you have some kind of shared, digital space where that can happen

It isn't artwork for the sake of artwork, and doesn't have to be of a standard to really merit the term "art" but the creating and the sharing makes your classroom a creative space in which we generate things we then share together, which is terrific for generating good group dynamics. I belong to this community because we drew cats and stuff together…

How to draw a simple dog
Here's simple dog step-by-step. It's fun because people inevitably have lots of scope for adding (often unintended) "personality" to their dog when they draw the face and/or proportion the body.

Classroom dog

As I'll be suggesting in my Conference session, what you need is not talent but practice. You're not really drawing, as I've suggested above, merely copying, and by copying the steps a few times your practice gives you the other vital ingredient to classroom drawing — namely, confidence.

As the title of my session ("Yes, we can: not drawing, merely representing") suggests, "Yes, YOU can!"

 

Wonderful images for easy speaking and creative writing tasks

Here's just a quick one with a couple of images that have worked well in class as the starting prompts for both speaking and writing tasks.

The first, above, posted on our Instagram account, was as you can see taken in the street outside.

It's the sort of image I think you want for class — as it seems to tell a story of some kind. Add to it a couple of imaginative questions (see the Instagram post for examples) and you've got the basis for a great, creative, materials-light task, one that is going to require collaboration and plenty of interaction if you get your learners to produce their stories, whether oral (and perhaps recorded) or written.

The second, below was found on Twitter, as you can see:

In this case, apart from things like where the photo might have been taken, you want something along the lines of who or what is up there on the star and what is it that they (or the man on the beach) are trying to communicate…?

Thanks, Kim, once again, for trying that second idea with learners.

See also: Great Twitter feeds for images for class

Digital storytelling dolls and LegoMen

dolls0315

You've taken and shared the photos, now tell the story… | Photos: Esther and Class 3D

Esther tells me she had a lot of fun with this idea, which started out with teens using their smartphones to take photos of dolls, LegoMen, PlayMobil figures (hugely popular in Spain), Action Men, teddy bears or whatever they could find either at home or in shop windows.

Esther says:

Once we had lots of photos, we pooled them and I let the students pick whichever "characters" they wanted. The photos were all over the place, including on phones and Facebook but eventually one student had access to them all and put them in a PowerPoint for us all to see.

Once we had that, I let them pick whatever characters they wanted and then, in pairs, they incorporated the characters into "stories". I've got this tremendous mix of levels in the same group so I gave them a lot of freedom: some of the "stories" were just simple dialogues, others much more complex, including several PowerPoint stories, one a Prezi (probably not a good idea).

The "Cinderella" dolls [see image] were the most popular and produced some amazing stories!

Collecting the photos took about 10 days, which included two weekends (but note that it wasn't Esther doing that!) and the learners had a week in which to present the finished story in some form, with some being printed, some being shared digitally.

For a mixed ability group (and possibly for any group), allowing the learners leeway on their choice of tools and the actual format of the story — dialogue, poem, "proper" story, etc. — is a great idea.

A single place to post the photos to would probably have been a good idea (that was my fault, Esther 😉  ).

Pictures of graffiti for fun and language

Here's one I tweeted yesterday, which worked well in class, the picture being one Kim took of graffiti here in the Barrio Gótico in Barcelona.

There just happened to be a class of adults next door to Kim's teens and, the adults' teacher arriving late (!), Kim sent half of her teens next door to ask them what they thought the correct answer was and then report back, while the other half of Kim's class discussed it together.

Fun — and productive, too!

Here's another one, also spotted in the street, which also worked well (also with teens), who had to incorporate the phrases "sad eyes" and "warm hands" into a story:

Having no technology available — no computer in the room, no wifi and no smartphones (!!!) — they used pen and paper, and what's wrong with that?