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

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.

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.

8 tips for providing technical support in class

Provide help with language, not with technology

This is a "muddiest point" from my workshop last Friday. At the end of the session, someone asked:

Learning training: isn't it a lot to take on board for learners to become familiar with X, Y, Z apps? How do we "prepare" them for it? Any tips?

Nowadays, do you need to teach people how to use their smart phones? It does depend on age, but in my experience you don't, and especially you don't with anyone under the age of approx. 25.

My #1 tip would be…

  • DON'T you provide the technical support — that's NOT your job!

Other tips:

  • Do find out right at the start of term which of your learners are "good" with technology. Make sure they're on board and willing to help others (in English!), if the need arises
  • Do have a technically-savvy person in each group when you do groupwork
  • Do have people in the class listening for the alert "Technical!": when someone has a technical problem have them either work it with a partner or else call out "Technical!" and have other people, from other groups — not you — go and see if they can help
  • Don't constantly be asking people to download new apps, however cool they might be. Instead, get a lot out of a few — like Spreaker, for example, for podcasting; or get a lot out of something like Edmodo or Instagram, using it for a lot of different activities.
  • Do keep tasks simple! Don't waste time — yours or that of your learners — with things like editing sound or video. If that is necessary, rather than edit, re-record — that's so much better for language practice!
  • Do these things both with adults and with young learners. It's amazing what the latter know about technology — often instinctively, without you having to provide a step-by-step guide!
  • Do practise with the technology you are going to use before you have learners use it; but you're doing that not so that you'll be able to solve every difficulty that might arise but so that you'll feel more confident that it will work and, believe me, if you do feel confident, it will, especially if you don't intend to provide the technical assistance yourself

Vital, I think, is to remember this: you are there in class to provide help with language, not with Photoshop or PowerPoint or Prezi…

See also | This brilliant school-wide technical support project my son experienced.

Any other tips, anyone? Do add them in the comments!