I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way — things I had no words for. ~Georgia O'Keeffe
O’Keeffe might have been speaking about her own struggles communicating, but what she says gets to the heart of the challenges English language learners (ELLs) face on a daily basis. English language learners often work hard to communicate within the narrow parameters of a second language. Art, in its many forms including music, visual arts, poetry, drama, and film, provides an opportunity for ELLs to overcome some of their communication challenges. Whether teachers use art as part of meaning-making activities for learners or as ways to support language acquisition, art can be a fun and valuable addition to the language classroom.
In this month’s Teacher’s Corner, we will offer some ways to incorporate art into the English language classroom with a new activity each week. As we progress through the month, remember that art not only allows for creativity among learners, but also can be structured and incorporated into lessons to complement and supplement language learning objectives. These activities are designed for teachers to easily incorporate art into the English language classroom.
When learners feel more connected to their classmates and teacher, it is easier to overcome other classroom challenges such as discipline and motivation. Art can be a great way to bring your learners together and create a supportive, nurturing environment that values all learners’ contributions to the language learning classroom. This week’s Teacher’s Corner shows you how to develop a strong sense of classroom community through a drawing version of show and tell. Show and tell is an activity where learners bring in a personally important object or story and share it with their class.
This is a simple activity that requires little preparation and time, but offers the benefits that come with creating and maintaining a strong and cohesive group.
Speaking, Listening, and Writing
During this activity, students will:
- Draw a picture of three things: their home, something that they are good at, and an important person in their lives
- Share and explain their drawings in small groups and eventually with the class
- Prepare and ask questions about their classmates’ stories
- Paper and pencils for students
- Any other art materials such as markers, crayons, magazines, if available
- Colored paper or stickers
- Prepare your own drawing to use as a model in class.
- Before class begins, make sure to gather all of the necessary materials.
- On the board, write the things that learners are going to draw.
- Fold pieces of colored paper or stickers and put into a bag for drawing. If you have 40 students, you’ll want 20 colors/stickers and 2 of each color/sticker.
- Tell learners that they are going to express themselves through drawing. Make yourself a part of the discussion and model the activity by sharing your own drawing with the class. Point out parts of your house that are important to you; explain the activity you are good at and what you like about the activity; and share the person that is important to you and offer your own reasons about why you chose this person. Once you’ve shared your drawing, encourage questions from students. If students are unwilling to ask questions, model some good questions.
- Give everyone a pencil and piece of paper.
- Tell students to draw three pictures on their paper: their home, something they are good at doing, and a picture of someone who is important to them. Explain that they will have to share their drawing and explanations of their drawings with the class.
- Depending on how familiar you and your students are with each other, you can offer other ideas for their drawings, such as a favorite meal or holiday or something they love to do with their friends. It is important to pick three aspects that are relatively personal, but that learners would feel comfortable sharing with the class. Remember that the drawings should also encourage questions and discussion.
- Give learners time to draw and/or create.
- It is not important that students draw well, but that they are free to create. This will encourage more discussion and explanation among learners in English.
- If you have the materials available, give learners opportunities to create these images in ways other than drawing. For example, if learners have access to magazines, they can cut and paste pictures onto the paper. If they have crayons, markers, or paint, they can add color and more details. The purpose is to use the activity as way to express who they are without initially relying on language. The language component of the activity follows this creative part of the activity.
- Once learners have finished their drawings, put learners into pairs. One creative way to do this is to have learners choose a piece of colored paper or sticker from a bag. Learners who choose the same colored paper or stickers are put into pairs. Make sure you have enough for every student to draw from the bag and two of every different color or sticker.
- Now have learners share their drawings with their partners.
- For beginner learners, the students, in pairs, label their pictures with words from their vocabulary. For example, when students label their houses, they can point to things on their drawing that they think are important such as: ‘kitchen; we eat meals as a family here’ or, simply, ‘kitchen’. For beginners, it is a chance to practice communicating what they’ve drawn while also writing down keywords that highlight what they want to say.
- For more advanced learners, tell each pair to write five sentences about their partner’s pictures as their partner tells them about each picture. One student might describe his/her house and who lives there while the other writes it down on the picture.
- When learners have finished explaining their pictures to their partners, have them share in larger groups. To do this, combine two to four sets of pairs together.
- Learners can share their drawings at the beginning of each subsequent class with a different group of learners until all learners have heard from all of their classmates. This might require five minutes at the start or end of each class for a week or a few weeks, depending on the size of your class.
- Alternatively, bring all learners together and have each learner share their drawings with the whole class.
- As learners share, each student listening must ask one question about each image.
- Possible questions to ask: Why is this person important to you? You are good at ___________.Do you also enjoy doing ___________?
Sometimes, reviewing material or lessons, especially for a test, can be monotonous for both teachers and learners. Often we rely on drills, worksheets, and question sessions to clarify and reinforce lessons learned; however, reviewing material can be fun when paired with creative activities. In this week’s Teacher’s Corner, we’ll show you how to combine a review lesson with the fun and creativity of writing and acting out short plays. In this activity, learners will write and perform a play that reviews a chosen topic or lesson. The benefits of this technique are threefold: learners are invested in the review session because they work together to plan the review session; the writing and performance support multiple learning styles that further reinforce the material for review; and the creative nature of the activity gives learners a new medium in which to use and practice language learned.
For additional ideas and activities for using drama and plays in the classroom, see the webinar Introduction to Reader’s Theater for EFL Classrooms and the text Design for Drama: Short Plays from American Literature on the American English website.
Intermediate and above
Writing, Reading, and Speaking
During this activity, students will:
- Prepare the script for a short play or skit that reviews one of the units/lessons learned in class
- Practice and present the play to the class
- Watch and/or listen to plays to identify three things learned from each performance
- Paper and pencils for students
- Any materials for crafting, such as markers, crayons, fabric, and paper for making costumes or masks
- Template in Appendix A
- Identify the lessons or units that you want students to review
- Prepare a sign-up sheet so groups can choose the lesson/unit they prefer
- Alternatively, write each lesson/unit on pieces of paper and have groups draw at random
- Make copies of template in Appendix A (1 per group) or write the template on the board for students to use as a model for writing their play
- Explain to learners that they are going to write a short play (sometimes called a skit) and perform it for their classmates.
- Each play will focus on a lesson/unit that they have worked on earlier in the term. For example, if you and your students studied simple present tense and family vocabulary, then one group will choose or be assigned simple present tense as the theme of their play and another group might choose or be assigned the topic of family vocabulary.
- One way to group students is to have students count off. When you have 20 students, give each student a number from 1 to 5. All of the students given the number 1 work together, students with the number 2 are in a group, and so on. This creates five groups of four students each.
- Tell learners that everyone in their group will have a role in the play. This means every student will speak at some point. Use the template (Appendix A) to help students plan and write their play. You can also have students give you the completed templates at the end of the activity as part of their assignment.
- Each play should be about 10 minutes long.
- Plays are stories made up of speaking (dialogue), so students should prepare what each character will say by writing a script. They do not need to memorize their scripts but should have them written and available if they need them during the performance.
- Using their own creativity, they must write the play so that it retells and reviews the topic they’ve been given. For example, if their topic is family vocabulary, they can write a play about a family. The story of the family can be about anything the students choose as long as they use family vocabulary throughout the play.
- Remember to circulate as students work. Offer feedback on their plans, and make sure that each group member will have a role.
Depending on the language level of the learners, the activity can be adapted to fit their abilities.
- For lower-level learners: Learners wear nametags with the names of their characters. Learners can write their dialogue with very short sentences. Remember, the goal is for learners to practice their writing and speaking skills using the target language. For example, if the topic is family vocabulary, then have each member of the group choose a family member as a character. For the dialogue of the script, each learner writes (and during “performance” time, says) two sentences about his/her own character and two sentences about other characters, such as, “Hi, I’m Jake. I am the youngest son in the family. She is my mom. She cooks dinner for us every night.” This gives beginning learners a manageable framework in which they can plan and perform.
- More advanced learners can write a more involved script that has their characters interacting with one another.
Kinesthetic learning addresses the needs of learners who learn best through doing. Teachers of younger learners often employ many types of kinesthetic activities, but these same activities can be adapted to meet the learning styles and needs of learners of all ages and levels. Dance is a great kinesthetic activity that offers a change in normal classroom routines. In this week’s Teacher’s Corner, we use dance to reinforce English literacy skills—in particular, the alphabet.
Speaking, Listening, and Reading
During this activity, students will:
- Work together to create a dance that depicts the alphabet.
- Perform and teach the class their alphabet dance.
Before class, organize students into groups of 6 to 8. You can put the groups together from your class list or plan to organize groups at the start of class.
- Warm up the students by teaching them the alphabet song.
- Use the audio recording from the American English website.
- If audio equipment is not available in your classroom, learn the song first and then teach it to your students.
- Have students sing the song with you or along to the audio. When you get to the letter Y, make the shape of the letter with your body by raising your arms above your head.
- When the song is finished, make the letter Y again, and ask students to guess the letter.
- Ask learners what other ways they can use their bodies to make the letter Y. How can they make the letter Y with someone else?
- Tell learners it is now their turn. Learners will work in small groups to create a dance that teaches the alphabet while singing the alphabet song.
- They can use only their bodies to create the letters.
- They will plan their alphabet dance and then perform it for the class.
- Remind them that since they will be singing the song, they will perform each letter at the same time they sing the letter.
- Put students into the groups you planned ahead of class.
- For more ways to organize learners into groups in class, see this previous Teacher’s Corner.
- Give learners time and space to work on their alphabet dances, about 15 to 20 minutes.
- Ask for volunteers to see which group would like to perform first.
- As each group performs, encourage learners to sing along and copy what the dancers are doing.
- One way to adapt this activity is to have groups learn the routine of other groups. This way, the group performing is teaching their classmates the alphabet and reinforcing the material in different ways.
- Another adaptation has learners doing the alphabet out of order and silently. For example, one group performs their letter B without saying or singing the letter. The rest of the class can then try to guess the letter.
- For follow-up or extension, call out a letter and have all students make the shape based on their dance. For example, call out the letter H and watch as students make their versions of H with their bodies.
Photographs can be a great way for students to find visual representations of the language they are learning in class. We use pictures in language classrooms all of the time, but we don’t always give students opportunities to choose the photographs and make the connections out of their own creativity and understanding. In this week’s Teacher’s Corner, we put materials development in the hands of the learners. Students will work to find a visual representation of a word they are given and then share that visual with the class as part of a class museum exhibit.
Speaking, Listening, Reading, and Writing
During this activity, students will:
- Use photography to provide visual versions of a vocabulary word or idea they have learned in class recently.
- Create written and/or spoken descriptions of their photos to reinforce and reteach language learned in the classroom.
- Card stock or heavy paper for “framing” photos
- Printed copies of photos/magazines/newspapers
- Example picture with text (see Appendix A)
- Have enough copies of magazines/newspapers/photos for all students to work with.
- Make stations of materials for easy collection. For example, have a pile of papers, a pile of magazines, a pile of glue, etc. so that each student can come to the front and collect one of each.
- Have a list of vocabulary words or concepts that your students have learned recently in class.
- Prepare one photograph with a written description as a model for learners. You can make one or use Appendix A.
- Tell students that they are going to make a museum in class using photographs.
- Show them the sample picture you created or use Appendix A.
- Let them look at the sample picture and ask if it reminds them of any vocabulary words or concepts they have learned in class recently.
- After they have made some guesses, read the description of the photograph to them.
- Ask learners what other pictures might also be used to explain the same word or concept.
- After learners collect their materials and return to their seats, walk around the classroom and give each learner a word or concept to focus on while looking for a photograph.
- In an adaptation of this activity, ask learners to bring in their own pictures to use for the project.
- One variation might have students taking their own pictures outside of class time. They print the picture and bring it to class to use for the activity.
- Another alternative is to make this into a digital photography project. Learners can find pictures online and submit them to you via email. You can then collect all of the photographs and put them into a PowerPoint or Prezi (www.prezi.com) slideshow as a way to present them via a projector and a computer. Rather than have written descriptions, have learners prepare a spoken description to give during the slideshow.
- Another option is to have learners work in small groups to make slideshow presentations of their materials, complete with descriptions and pictures.