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

Amazing photo and video for a fun creative writing task

Here's a creative writing activity — or digital storytelling if you like to be modern — that went down well when I tested it on three willing teenagers and which we posted earlier today, along with two other similar activities on our Spanish teacher training blog (content in Spanish):

To really appreciate the photo in the tweet there, you perhaps really need to see the other photos in this Huffington Post article (and see the amazing video, below).

I'd recommend doing this in groups of at least 5, with one person being the Queen sitting there in the photo and the other members of the group being people that live and work in the castle (which you can just about see there on her knee — and see also the article mentioned above).

Stages of the activity
(1) Discuss and pick who should be Queen (there were only four of us and I finished up being the Queen (!) but in a bigger class I wouldn't want to do that).

(2) The "workers" should answer the following questions individually:

  • What's your name?
  • What's your job?
  • What effect do the mushrooms have (see article, or the video below, for the images)
  • Is the Queen good or bad — and why?
  • What hidden secret do you have which — until now — you have never told anyone?

(3) Whole class — or with the class divided into however many groups you have — get together, in the presence of the Queen, to discuss the answers, and keep and/or iron out any contradictions as well as making any additions to the story desired.

(4) Write (or record) and share — and comment — on the different versions of the story.

Tools for the activity
With only 4 of us, we in fact did this in a shared Google Drive document, though it would work excellently on a class blog — one on which all your learners are authors — with each "worker" writing their story as a post, with text and images (their own!) as desired and/or audio versions (with Spreaker being my preferred tool for that).

On a blog, you could then get the Queen to "comment" (something which I did, as the Queen, in comments inside the Drive document). You want comments in this kind of activity — comments give you more interaction, more use of language!

In a bigger class, within the groups, you could pair people to tell their story-within-a-story — as husbands and wives living in the castle.

Fun!

How it was made…

Into the Gloaming (Episode One) from Alexia Sinclair on Vimeo.

Amazing…!

Great idea for a follow-up digital storytelling project

VW Microbus

Another photo from a shop window | Photo: Kim

Here's a photo that Kim sent me after she'd tried out an idea for digital storytelling that worked quite well in one of her classes.

Kim says:

I thought you might like this [photo, above]. The project worked well but not superbly (my class are kind of complicated!) If it had worked better, it might have been fun to do a second part to the story — the sequel!

I love the photo, Kim, and the idea is great! My experience with this sort of project is that people often say "Can we do another project like that?" Always say "yes!" when they say things like that 😉 !

A sequel or prequel is a great idea. In this particular case, you might suggest the two VWs meet on the journey back (see the original diagram, here): your story is in who the passengers were and what happened when they met.

Thanks also to Ashley for feedback, via Twitter:

I replied:

It helps, of course, if teachers are creative, too!

Various other people have provided feedback on this one (Alicia, Esther, Jordi A…): thank you all.

If you do try out any of the ideas you find here, I love to hear how they went!

Fun collaborative writing task: St George and the VW microbus

VW microbus

In a shop window…

Here's just a quick idea for a digital storytelling project: Kim asked me to suggest a fun writing task ("Is that an oxymoron?" some of the teens in her class might have thought… 😉 ! )

In Catalonia, we celebrate St George's Day (known here as Sant Jordi) and in many schools they include writing competitions as part of the events, so this one had to be related — to be done with 15-16 year olds.

The VW microbus model in the image was in a shop window here in Barcelona and the aging hippy in me had to have a photo of it. I then suggested it as the starting point of the story, of which we provided the learners with the barest of bones, including this very rough one-minute sketch:

rough sketch

The story
This was how the story has been presented to the learners, who have to complete it, in groups, by Thursday:

A person (man…? woman…?) leaves Town A (why…?), driving a VW microbus to go to Town B (in what country…? how far away…?), traveling over mountain roads, as per the sketch. On the way s/he picks up various other travelers (how many fit in a VW…?) who are trying to get to (where…? why…?).

One of the people is St George, one is a dragon (not necessarily a real dragon, possibly a very fiery little old lady, for example…)

We don't know anything else: you have to fill in all the missing details, each of you in your groups being one of the travelers, writing your own version of the same story.

My thinking was that this would be an ideal project for a class blog but would also have worked well on Tackk if you don't have a blog you already use with your class. Tackk is super easy to use, though you'd need one person to post all the different stories there, or else all use the same login.

A nice simple alternative would be to use shared Google Drive documents.

The original plan was:

  1. One lesson (50 minutes) working the story/stories out in groups (varying in size from 5 to 7, approx.), with as much help with vocabulary and ideas as possible coming from the teacher
  2. Writing the stories up at home, with as much collaboration as possible (Google Drive, Skype, WhatsApp… more or less whatever tools the learners wanted to use for that)
  3. One lesson, in class, putting the finishing touches to the stories, reading everyone else's stories, commenting on them, presenting them, getting feedback on the project, etc.

Learners sometimes — often! — say they "hate" writing (these learners said that last week!) but such projects are fun to do once you get people into them.

I think I'd in fact rather do such things than anything else in a language classroom.