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!"

 

Project work (3): Not quite what you expected for Christmas

Flower power soldiers
Fun with random photos taken by your learners

Assuming that the first two parts of this four-part project went down well, just before Christmas, and at least a couple of weeks after Part 2, we're now going to have some fun with those random photos we took in Part 1.

As suggested in Part 2, you could do this either individually or in pairs or small groups. My preference is always to make project work collaborative: assuming that you've got your learners to speak English (!) for such things, it provides so much opportunity for meaningful interaction and negotiation.

For Part 3, first, randomly assign the letters to Father Christmas written in Part 2 so that everyone (or each pair/group) has one (see also footnote, below).

Your learners then need to:

  • Invent the character who is going to be giving the present — parent/s, a sibling, an aunt etc (see example below)
  • Obligatory Pick a present from the random objects photographed in Part 1 — however far off what was requested!
  • Write the letter to accompany the Christmas present (see example)

The letter should:

  • Mention the present that the person said they wanted
  • Explain why you've bought them that and not the PlayStation, iPhone 6, new car or whatever was requested.
  • Include the photo of the object in your post

Note that you must pick a present from the random objects. That's part of the fun. You can (if you wish!) do your best to satisfy the person involved but chances are they are going to be slightly disappointed!

Example of what the learners have to produce (and see Part 2 for the original letter to Santa):

Dear Desmond,
Just a note to say Happy Christmas!
I hope you like your present. You know I don't really approve of guns and swords and that kind of thing but this platoon of soldiers are lovely and peace-loving as you can see [photo, above].
I know you wanted a phone, but I'm sure we can have lots of fun playing with these together.
Mum
PS I don't think it was a good idea to lie to Father Christmas about your school marks. Remember that to pass in Primary School you need to get at least 5 out of 10!

Various colleagues in the last couple of years have kept Part 3 for that dreadful last week before the Christmas holidays when everyone is over-excited and no one wants to do any real "work".

The idea has proved entertaining — and productive! — for that time of year.

For Part 4, come back next week. You can guess what it's going to be, right…?

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

*Footnote || If you've been using a blog or Edmodo or some other digital space for the letters, you might find it a good idea to be able to direct the learners to the letter they have to respond to. A shared Google Drive document works well for this — one containing the URLs (addresses) of the letters and the names of the learners they are assigned to. I recommend having one of the learners produce the list of addresses!

Alternatively, for ease of reference, the letters could be printed.

Project work: Letters to Father Christmas (2)

Dear Santa,
I'm writing to tell you what I want for Christmas.
I want an iPhone6 (484 GBP on Amazon.co.uk). I need one. My Mum says that I don't need one and that I have to wait (several YEARS!!!) but lots of other people in my class have got a smartphone and I feel left out.
An Apple Watch (the 42mm Stainless Steel Case with Milanese Loop, 610 GBP on Amazon) would be cool, too.
I've worked really hard this year! It's true that I've failed a few subjects at school (OK, a lot if you count things like sports and music and social sciences) so I'll be happy with just the phone. And some chocolate.
Thanks.
I'm SO EXCITED about this!!!!!!
Desmond (8)
PS Please DON'T get me an iPhone5 !!!!

Assuming that your class enjoyed Part 1 of the project suggested last week, and that you ended up with a nice collection of random objects, here's Part 2, as a follow-up.

This works best if you make no reference to Part 1, so you perhaps want to let a couple of weeks pass by so that Part 1 has been forgotten before starting Part 2.

Part 2 is quite straight-forward. Your learners have to (1) invent a character who is going to (2) write a letter to Father Christmas to say what s/he'd like for Christmas; the letters should then be (3) shared with everyone else in some way (see below).

You probably want to provide an example of such a letter, as shown above.

Writing the letters
You could have your learners work individually or you could have them work in pairs or threes (and because pair- and groupwork leads to more interaction and more speaking, I like to do virtually everything in class in that fashion).

Having you learners start individually but then pool their ideas and pick the best to work on one letter between each pair/group also works well.

Sharing the letters with the rest of the class
If you're strictly low-tech (though, nowadays, are your learners?), you could have printed versions of the letters displayed on a classroom wall.

But it's surely way more interesting to share the letters digitally in some way, so that everyone gets to read everyone else's, and comment on them. If you've had your learners collaborate on writing them, with one letter from each pair or three, we're not necessarily talking about a lot of letters.

Among the alternatives:

  • A class blog on which all your learners are authors (and can therefore create new posts), in which case you can keep things tidy (important!) by ensuring everyone uses the same "label" (e.g. "Letters to Father Christmas"). My recommendation would be Blogger, rather than WordPress or other similar tools
  • An Edmodo group, with the letters being published there directly as new "notes" (or posts, as they'd be called on Facebook). If they're collaborating on writing the letters, they might find it easiest to use shared Google Drive documents and then copy and paste from there to Edmodo — which in turn then makes it easier for others to comment on the letters
  • With adults, I'd recommend a private G+ Community, rather than Edmodo

Fun with adults
Friends and colleagues have been doing this project for the last couple of years in schools but I think you'll find it works with adults, too, no matter how long it is since they last wrote a letter to Santa!

Note in the example letter, above, how "Desmond" has been given an age. Part of the secret of getting such creative writing ideas to work is to help your learners be creative, to help them see some of the possibilities that are there. You are there to help with the language but help them generate the ideas, too. That's just as important!

For Part 3, and to see what this has to do with the random pictures we took in Part 1, come back next week!

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

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

3 brilliant videos to share and comment on via social media

In a session last week on one of our Spanish teacher training courses, we were talking about using tools  such as Edmodo or a Google+ Community or other social media — and the question was raised on what you should do if learners start sharing things that have nothing to do with what you've been doing in class.

My answer to the question would be "Brilliant!" — for two reasons: (1) that's exactly what I want to happen with shared digital spaces used with learners — I want them to take charge of running it, rather than me doing all the work; and (2) if it leads to more interaction and use of language, fantastic! That's why we're on social media with language learners!

An example would be the video above, shared by a learner in an Edmodo group being used by a colleague, Esther, who then shared it with me.

Here's another example, one I posted on Twitter the other day, which I shared with the teenagers I have in a small private class which meets only once a week, sometimes not even that — circumstances crying out for a digital space in which to share and comment on such things:

These things can be a bit hit-and-miss: I thought I'd got zero response (!) on this one, as none of them "replied", but face-to-face it turned out that they had  all watched it and they found such a lot to say about it!

And while we're on the subject of great videos for class, here's another TED talk that looks great material if you teach adults B1 or above who spend any amount of time attending meetings:

You might try this generic activity with it, and then talk about whether or not they think the idea would work in their company and why/why not.

If you don't have a lot of learners doing that kind of job, it's still a brilliant one to share with them — both for the listening practice and for any discussion it might generate. It won't always do the latter but that's not going to stop me posting such stuff!

See also this video on how (not) to motivate people, great for discussion with adults.

A class blog would also make a perfect platform for such things.

Next question: How do you correct all the errors learners then make?