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

Start your Christmas project early this year

Random items photographed in the street

Christmas is still around 70 shopping days away but here's a fun, simple idea for project work that you probably want to start a couple of months before Christmas and — important! — not make any mention of Christmas when you do first start.

I'd suggest that you don't mention either that you have a longer, four-part project in mind. There's no worse way to begin the year than by telling learners how much work they're going to have to do 😉 !

That also means that if it doesn't turn out to be successful for you, you can drop it at any point and not continue.

Task #1: Totally random photos of whatever
Instructions given to learners:

Take 4-5 photos of totally random things [see examples above] that you see at home, in the street, in school, in the classroom… and share them with us [see below]. The more random, the better! You should say where the photo was taken but not what it is.

Optionally: using a free app like the amazing Pixlr Express (or the even more amazing Pixlr Editor) will improve many photos remarkably.

Sharing the photos
There are lots of ways the photos could be shared including the following:

The photos can be posted directly to any of the above. Alternatively, also saving the photos to a shared Google Drive folder is an interesting option (especially if the learners do it themselves, not you!). Having the photos there makes them handier for the later parts of the project — because we're going to be reusing the same photos later.

Using a shared digital space like these with learners is so much more 21st century than continuing to imagine that the fact that you use PowerPoint means that you're using technology.

One of the things I like about the project is that it's a nice simple way to start taking advantage of the amazing technology now in your learners' pockets (i.e. their smartphones). It's also a great, simple way to get them started using some of the brilliant shared digital spaces now available to us which you might then take advantage of for other projects.

I recommend picking a tool that you are going to use for other projects and highly recommend using a digital space like these with learners — it's so much more 21st century (and productive in terms of use of language!) than continuing to imagine that the fact that you use PowerPoint means that you're using technology.

Tips

  • Add your own random pictures, as examples of the sort of thing you want
  • Stress that they MUST take the photos themselves — they cannot just steal them from wherever on the internet or social media!

Task #2: Commenting on other learners' photos
To get the most out of shared spaces like Edmodo you want to get your learners (1) to add accompanying text to their photos and (2) to comment on what their peers are posting, either during or outside class time.

If the image is a personal belonging, the story behind it is sometimes interesting. With objects taken in the street, some indication of why the learner chose to photograph that gives them a short text to write. And if you encourage the photographer to include in the text a question for his/her peers (e.g. Does anyone remember these? Does anyone else own one?), then comments — and thus more language — will get generated.

With random images like these, you should also get (and should encourage!) a certain number of spontaneous comments. These could include guessing what the object in the image is if it's not otherwise clear but also things like questions and answers on how the photo was taken and edited.

You can also obtain comments by having your learners propose — via the comments — which images they think should get prizes for "Best Photo", "Best Editing", etc.

Note that I recommend not correcting errors in comments.

More opportunities for language use arise if you get learners to very briefly present some of the images, perhaps in the first or last 5 minutes of class. For that purpose, easy access to the photos in a shared Google Drive folder is also ideal.

Levels and ages
This looks like a project for young learners, but colleagues have also done it with adults and though originally it was designed for a B1-B2 level class, it has also worked below (and above) that level.

For Part 2 (and to see what this actually has to do with Christmas!), come back next week.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Brilliant video for sparking class discussion

Hellion – (Official 2012 Sundance Film Festival) from Kat Candler on Vimeo.

Here's a wonderful short (later made into a full-length movie) for class discussion, which I spotted this morning on Twitter from Vimeo.

The best videos for class are often those with a twist to them — and this one has two! They come at around 3m 40s and then at 5m 30s and, to get the most out of this, you probably want to stop right before them and discuss what's been seen up to that point. If you then show your learners the twist, you can get a huge amount more debate (and thus language) from the same clip.

I'd break this one down roughly as follows:

  • Before watching, have the learners find out from their partners/groups what younger and/or older siblings they have and how they treated each other as kids
  • Watch to 3m40s. To avoid everyone spending all that time in silence, I like to pair my learners and encourage them to talk to each other about what they're seeing on the screen while watching
  • Stop at that point and then discuss what happens; why; what the Dad is doing right/wrong; what you/your parents would do/did
  • Play to 4m 30s and then stop there (a) to check understanding, if necessary playing that section again; and (b) to see if we still think what we've previously said about the Dad, etc.
  • Play to 5m 30s and stop and discuss again
  • Play to the end and discuss further

If you like to take great shorts to class, keep an eye out for Vimeo's Staff Picks. For an English teacher, I'd say it's worth being on Twitter only to follow Vimeo!

Best practice: have your learners use smartphones to make video

Flipped learning: technology is not about the teacher does with it!

Here's on I posted on Twitter this week:

The project and competition is here (you have only until 1st June to get your learners to complete it, so hurry!) and the book is this one, Film in Action, by Kieran Donaghy, who produces the ideas for using film clips in language teaching on the brilliant Film-English.com website.

Go to any language teaching conference nowadays and you're all but guaranteed to hear someone speaking about flipped learning and how it's the Next Big Thing. I'm sorry, I just don't buy it, not for language teaching. In ELT, I don't think we're paid anywhere near enough to be producing video content, no matter how easy smartphones have made that. Now getting learners to produce the videos — as in the competition — that's surely the way to go!

Here's another brilliant example of the sort of thing learners could produce, which I also tweeted this week, from Mike Harrison:

Can your learners — not you, your learners!!! — tell a video story in 6 seconds (or 15 if you use Instagram)?

A tweet from the Innovate ELT Conference this weekend quoting Ceri Jones suggested that we should "Ask not what your tool can do, ask what it can help you to do". IH Barcelona replied:

It seems to me that real innovation, revolution if you like, isn't going to come from tinkering with what teachers do or don't do, or from what teachers do with technology, but from what teachers get learners to do with technology.

Recommended | The other titles from Delta Publishing are well worth exploring. See also two excellent ones on technology — Going Mobile (Nicky Hockly and Gavin Dudeney) and Teaching Online (Nicky Hockly and Lindsay Clandfield).

On Twitter, as @Tom_IHBCN, I post a maximum of one thing a day which I think will be of interest to language teachers and/or learners.