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!"

 

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.

Project work: the books on our shelves

Books on my shelf

My bookshelf: pride of place to the novels and short stories of Julio Cortázar

I'm doing the spring cleaning here on my blog, and either trashing or publishing some old posts that I had previously not got round to publishing.

This was originally an idea on The Guardian, which had readers photographing their bookshelves and describing what was on them, and what the contents say about them.

I took the photo of one of my own bookshelves and, before showing it to a group of adults, got them to guess what they thought I'd have on my shelf. Now that was fun! We then compared their ideas with what was actually in the photo — and they then had to go away, take photos of their own bookshelves on their phones and bring them back to class the next day and got people to talk about what it said about them.

If I was going to do it again — and it was a lot of fun, and productive of language — I'd probably get them to share the photos via either WhatsApp or a (private) Google+ Community, or possibly Instagram if whatever class I was doing it with were Instagram users.

Probably also a lot of fun to do if you had one of the learners collect all the photos and share them with everyone else in the class without revealing the names, so that no one knew whose shelf they were looking at and discussing.

See also a similar idea using photos of shoes, which used Edmodo.

Roleplay lesson from supermarket receipts

Can you justify what's on your supermarket receipt?

How much of a lesson can you get out of a supermarket receipt…?

Here's one that might sound a bit weird but seemed to work quite well when Kim tried it out in an adults post-First Certificate class, who had been doing a coursebook unit in which various "enviroment" themes had come up.

It required the learners to keep any supermarket receipts (!) and bring them to a subsequent class: They then had to defend what they'd purchased, from an environmental point of view, in a mock trial (I told you it might seem a bit weird 😉 !)

Rough outline of the lesson
Class one (Friday)

  • Learners were asked to keep and bring to class any supermarket receipts

As "homework"

  • Discussion and photos, and comments on what they were buying and how "ecological" it was, via a WhatsApp group

Class two (the following Friday)

  • Preparation time (15 mins): preparing the questions (amount of packaging…? how much meat…? how far the food had traveled from source…? etc), some of which had already come up in earlier classes and/or in the WhatsApp discussion; in order to  have a "case" and a "defence" ready for "the trial"
  • Role play the trial (10 mins): Team A = 2 defendants plus 2 lawyers vs Team B = 1 judge; 1 prosecution lawyer; 1 assistant prosecutor; 1 star witness
  • Role play 2 (10 mins), with the roles reversed
  • Sentencing (5 mins)
  • Discussion (15 mins)

Ideally, of course, you'd have the receipts in English, but Kim got round that one by having the prosecutors requiring the defendants to provide the translations during questioning.

No technology whatsoever involved in the actual class but fun, and not a photocopy in sight!

Tips for great class presentations given by learners

I suggested the tips shown in the slide above in my workshop on February 20.

Given by learners in class to their peers, collaborative presentations make a great language learning activity, both for adults and young learners at just about any level that is B1 or above.

To expand slightly on the points listed above:

  • Your job is to provide as much help with language as possible; having your learners brainstorm and present, and spending lots of class time on the former and on rehearsal, rather than on picking PowerPoint animations, is the best way to ensure this
  • VITAL Keep the presentations short: I suggest 90 seconds to 3 minutes maximum, with a maximum of 3-5 slides. Otherwise, presentations drag on and everyone gets so bored with them
  • Stop anyone going beyond the time limit set: don't give them a second longer, stop them, thank them, but don't fail them for not finishing within the time limit
  • VITAL Have your learners rehearse in their groups — and devote class time to that, with the groups giving their presentations simultaneously, perhaps to another group rather than the whole class. Provide language help there. Perhaps best for use outside class, there are tools like present.me (which will require a webcam) and the Spreaker app (audio only) which are great for this and WhatsApp voicemails are great too. Such rehearsals don't necessarily need to be shared with you (or corrected by you!)
  • Encourage your learners not to read from a script. It's not necessary if the presentation is (a) short and (b) properly rehearsed — and this is a speaking, not a reading activity
  • No stolen images, nor even ones borrowed from creative commons. I suspect that very few teachers agree with me on this one, but if you want a truly creative classroom, you want your learners to create the artwork and/or produce the images. Think quick doodles and photos taken on mobile phones…
  • VITAL Presentations are best given in pairs or small groups, even if that means not everyone gets to speak. If you teach classes of 15 or 25 people, there's just no way you can do 15 to 25 individual presentations in class — and there's so much more language practice to be had in the pair/groupwork required
  • Give the audience (the rest of the class) a reason for listening to the presentation: the presenters themselves can build that in by including a question to be answered at the end; or you can have peer assessment, including commenting…)
  • Have a question-and-answer (Q+A) slot afterwards and, if anything, allow longer for that than the actual presentation itself
  • Help your learners to perform, by explaining how to give a good presentation; how to steady nerves; how to enjoy the experience; how to create a good PowerPoint presentation; what to avoid; or how to create a good Prezi, if that's the tool they are going to be using
  • VITAL Share and comment afterwards: to get the most language out of just about whatever learners are doing with technology, you want a "comments" stage. Google Drive presentations are brilliant for this, for the comments tools, for the ease of sharing, and ease of embedding elsewhere, on things like a class blog or wiki. An Edmodo group or a G+ Community are also excellent tools to enable "comments" or if you want something amazingly easy and with an app, try Tackk. Comments are also great for the teacher to get feedback on the tasks given.

See this post for further notes on what tools to pick: my preference is for the learners themselves to choose.

NOTE As I pointed out during the workshop, good presentations never cram a dozen bullet-points into the same slide as the image above does 😉 !