A Visual Template for Action Research

In a previous post, I summarised what action research is. In this post, I’d like to share a visual template that you can use to plan your own action research.

Action research is exploring your teaching in order to make improvements. This road map can (hopefully) guide you towards a world where the sun always shines in your classroom! Draw it, or print it, then scribble down some notes and ideas.

Start at the beginning of the road, with the topic you’d like to explore. This may be a problem, such as students not taking effective notes. Try to narrow this down. Note taking skills are broad, so keep it simple and focus on one area (e.g. taking vocabulary notes).

Now use the lightbulbs to consider possible solutions or techniques you’d like to trial. Perhaps you’d like to train students to create a vocabulary dictionary, use graphic organisers or use simple drawings beside new words.

When you have a few ideas, head over to the left side of the road. Note down some people you’d like to talk to and information you need. Have a look for podcasts, videos, blogs, books, or articles to help you. After you’ve spoken to people and done some reading or viewing, you may want to revise your lightbulbs. That’s OK. That’s part of the process.

Hopefully by this point one idea in your lightbulbs will be glowing brighter than the rest. Trial it and see if it works. Once you’ve trialled it, go ahead and try others things. Collect evidence and reflect as you do so. This could include notes, a reflective journal, discussions, interviews, lesson plans, students’ work, feedback, etc.

If this is part of a formal action research project, you’ll then need to write a reflective report summarising your findings and evidence. You can then share this with the wider world to improve practice around the world!


Visual templates are a key graphic facilitation technique. My own action research has found that they are very effective in the ELT context. If you’d like to know more, why not join my online course (next one starts in January)? You can find information here or join my mailing list to hear about the next dates. You could also follow me on Linkedin or Twitter: @E_Bryson

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3 Free lessons plans! Because #ELTCanDoEco!

COP26 has been in my city, Glasgow, and I’ve got totally swept away by greentheming my lessons. 

My classes this year are starter and beginner level. The starter class are literacy level learners. They’ve got a strong grasp of the alphabet and can write simple words, but they’re working on their sentences and short texts.

Before COP26, I scoured all the usual places for environmental lesson plans, hoping I could find something suitable or accessible and adaptable. 

Alas, my search proved fruitless, so I donned my materials writing and graphic facilitation hat and got to work.

I created the following:

  • a hand-drawn infographic of environmental problems and things people can do to help (Grammar: Do you + verb?)
  • a set of worksheets using icons for common household waste (Grammar: It is a/an…  They are… s/es/ies)
  • an activity where students identify how to recycle each item of waste and discuss whether it can be recycled (Can you recycle…+noun?)

The lessons went down well with learners and really got them thinking green. I was surprised at how few actually recycled, but I think I planted the seed for them to explore their local recycling opportunities.

I don’t usually spend so much time using drawings to prepare my lessons, but I knew I’d use these again and again. I also wanted to create something unique for this week’s #DrawingELT (see twitter) challenge:

#ELTCanDoEco was created by ELT Footprint. They want to create a bank of ‘Can do’ statements, much like the CEFR statements but specifically for EcoLiteracy. They are calling on ELT professionals to use these when creating lessons with a green theme.

My lessons refer to the following eco-competencies:

  • I can understand and explain climate change.
  • I can communicate different ways to help the environment.
  • I can identify common household waste.
  • I can decide what household waste can and can’t be recycled.
  • I can consider different things to do with waste that can’t be recycled.

I’d like to share these lesson plans here with you. Although I wrote them for A0/A1, they are highly visual, and as such, I feel they can easily be adapted to all levels of learner. That’s why I’m sharing these as a powerpoint. You can download it and adapt the visuals for your own class. I’ve made some notes on each powerpoint slide of how to do this. 

You can download them here:

You can read more about #ELTCanDoEco on the ELT Footprint page:

If you’d like to learn how to draw visuals similar to those in my lesson plan, good news! I have an online course for that! The next one is in January. You can find information here or join my mailing list to get updates.  

The satisfying sounds of an engaged classroom (and how to hear them)!

I recently had the satisfaction of hearing my students make noises such as:

‘Aaaaah’ (I understand)

‘Ooooh’ (How cool!)

‘Haha’ (How funny! This class is great!)

Hearing students make those sounds is what I live for as a teacher. It’s those moments that make you think there can’t possibly be a better job in the world.

So what was I doing? A simple listening activity using basic shapes with my beginner class. We were revising common objects (e.g. a watch, a camera) with the form ‘It is a/an’.

You may have noticed that my drawings are as simple as I can make them. They are often made of basic shapes such as squares, circles, triangles, rectangles, lines and squiggles. If you can form these shapes, and write the alphabet, then you can draw. It is especially easy to draw common objects with these shapes.

First, I drew basic shapes on the board. Then we revised prepositions of place and phrases like ‘bottom left’ and ‘top right’ (which I find particularly useful for navigating the screen in online lessons).

Then I gave them all a sheet of A4 printer paper and dictated the following:

Object 1: Draw a rectangle. In the centre of the rectangle, draw a big circle. In the top right corner, draw a small square. On top of the rectangle, in the top right, draw a small rectangle.

Object 1: This is what they drew. One student put the square on the left, so I added another square to mine. Left or right wasn’t really important. It still looked like a camera.



Object 2: Draw a circle. On top of the circle, draw a square. Under the circle, draw a square. In the middle of the circle, draw a line. Start in the middle and go right. Draw one more line. Start in the middle and go up. 

Object 2: This is what they (mostly) drew.


Object 3: Draw a long rectangle. On the top right, draw a small rectangle. Draw lines in the small rectangle from the top to the bottom.

Object 3


Object 4: Draw a long rectangle. On the left of the triangle, draw a triangle. On the right, draw a small square. 

Object 4: Ok, I may have added the handle at the end.

By now, students were getting it. Drawings are just a collection of shapes. I did this with two different classes and in the second class, students got quite excited and started creating their own. Here’s what they described, with much hilarity:


Then they wanted to know how to draw a rocket. Which uses curves as well as the other shapes.

I did this with my beginner classes. One group has slightly stronger listening skills and they drew as I spoke, the other needed a little more support. For them, I dictated, then I demonstrated on the whiteboard if they needed it.

Each group made the same noises! I’d be really keen to hear if your students have the same reactions! I’d also be interested to hear how higher levels get on with this activity. I think it would still challenge them. You could read it faster, or make the objects more intricate.

If you’d like to brush up on your drawing skills and learn lots of ways to use drawing and graphic facilitation techniques for ELT, why not join one of my online courses? You can find information here or join my mailing list to hear about the next dates. You could also follow me on Linkedin or Twitter: @E_Bryson

Action Research: a sketchnote

This year, I am delighted to have the opportunity to become a mentor for Outstanding Learning Teaching and Assessment (OTLA) Action Research projects. I am currently working with Oldham College on a project aiming to ease the transition from ESOL to Vocational FE courses and Lancaster and Morecambe college on a project investigating emotional support strategies for ESOL learners. So far, I have been blown away by the knowledge and enthusiasm the lecturers have.

It’s been wonderful working with such inspiring individuals, but also hearing about previous OTLA projects. It has struck me that Action Research can often be misunderstood. I think many practitioners (my less experienced self included) hear the words ‘Research’ and instantly think of trawling journal articles, reading (and re-reading) big academic words and hours analysing data. But in fact, action research is none of those things. It is much simpler.

Every teacher can be a researcher. And it’s highly likely that most practitioners informally do action research without even knowing it. Action research is essentially trialling new teaching techniques and working practices to make improvements. Now find me a teacher who hasn’t done that! In a more formal sense, action research projects involve reflection, keeping a journal, collecting evidence (such as students’ work, feedback, lesson plans, etc), a final report, ethics agreements and sharing the learning with other professionals.

Here’s a sketchnote I drew to summarise Action Research:

For more detailed information, the Education and Training Foundation Action Research guide is very informative.

If you’d like this sketchnote and would like to brush up on your drawing skills, why not join one of my online courses? You can find information here or join my mailing list to hear about the next dates. You could also follow me on Linkedin or Twitter: @E_Bryson

How to draw ELT icons: a video

Along with plenty of tutor support from me, my online course has an ever growing bank of videos demonstrating how to draw icons quickly and simply. I’d like to share one of those videos with you.

In this video I demonstrate how to draw some useful icons for the ELT classroom. You can use these icons for your whiteboards, resources, sketchnotes and graphic organisers. You could also show your learners how to use them in their notebooks. I particularly like to add them to rubrics in homework tasks to ensure my beginners understand what to do.

How would you use them?

Loved this? Want to learn how to engage your learners with simple drawings? Join my Online Course! Now taking bookings for January. Follow this link to find out more:

For more ideas on how to use these icons in the classroom, check out my other blog posts.

For updates: sign up to my mailing list, or follow me via this blog or on Twitter: @E_Bryson

Feedback comes in many forms. But the best is a fairy!

Feedback is crucial for developing high quality learning experiences. As a materials writer, I value the editorial process because it helps me develop my content from first to final draft. As a teacher, I encourage my students to tell me how they feel about the content of my lessons, and what I can do to support their learning. As a teacher trainer, I am always keen to hear what participants thought of my session so I can make changes the next time I deliver it.

Feedback comes in many forms. Pun intended. It’s true, often feedback comes in the form of a form. Survey Monkey and Google Forms are the ‘go to’.

As a graphic facilitator, I can tell you that there are much more creative (and fun) ways of receiving feedback. In this post, I’d like to share with you to one of those methods.

Let me introduce the Feedback Fairy.

Visual capture sheet inspired by Martha Harding at Scottish Refugee Council.

I was first introduced to the Feedback Fairy by Martha Harding while I was on secondment at the Scottish Refugee Council. Martha had lots of cool ideas for facilitating sessions, and I added this one to my toolkit. I drew this version for the Sharing Lives Sharing Languages project that I was managing at the time.

The feedback fairy is best used as a flipchart, and participants add post-it comments in the various sections. You can do this online using the annotation tools in Zoom or using post-its in Jamboard. If you want individual feedback, you could photocopy one per participant.

Participants are guided to consider:

Heart – things they loved

Toolkit – tools, resources or activities they’d take away

Speech bubble – things they’d tell others

Brain – things they thought or learned

Wand – things they wished had been included

Bin – things they didn’t like

For my first cohort of Engaging Learners with Simple Drawings participants, it was a no-brainer to use the feedback fairy. But since the course focus was on drawings, I did something a little different.

I asked them to draw their own feedback fairies.

I’d like to share some of them here with you. I was blown away by the creativity, skill and imagination. And how much they all loved the course!

Credit: Annette Flavel
Credit: Eve Sheppard
Credit: Nergiz Kern
Credit: Cheryl Palin

Loved this? Want to learn more Graphic Facilitation techniques specifically for ELT professionals? Join my Online Course! Follow this link to find out more:

For updates: sign up to my mailing list, or follow me via this blog or on Twitter: @E_Bryson

Feel the fear, and draw anyway! Launching #drawingELT!

It is with great excitement that Clare Catchpole (of Express Yourself in English fame) and I launch the hashtag #drawingELT.

We are both firm believers in the power of drawing. It’s creative. It’s relaxing. It’s engaging. It’s supportive. It’s fun. It’s also great for checking understanding, aiding memory, supporting students to take notes and activating life skills such as critical thinking.

We know that there are many teachers out there who agree and who would like to develop their drawing skills. So we’d like to create a community of like-minded ELT professionals. All you need to do is use #drawingELT on Twitter or LinkedIn to share your lesson ideas, blogs, doodles, sketches and flashcards.

To inspire your drawings, we’ll post challenges. These will vary from ELT related topics, to vocabulary items to more complex concepts like grammar, metaphor or puzzlers such as how to draw inclusive pronouns or the difference between need and want. You can add your own suggestions here:

And before you say it, everyone CAN DRAW. Some of us are maybe just a bit rusty or haven’t had much practice. Drawing is a visual language, and as language teaching professionals we all know the best way to improve is regular practice. I have two mottos:

Feel the fear, and draw anyway!

It’s not art, it’s communication. 

As such, with #drawingELT, anything goes. You can share the most rudimentary stick person scribbled on the back of a napkin or a detailed illustration capable of making Da Vinci jealous. Mine will be closer to the former!

Here’s a fantastic little .gif that Clare made to get you in the mood!

I look forward to seeing your creations!

If you’d like to brush up on your drawing skills, why not join one of my online courses? You can find information here or join my mailing list to hear about the next dates. You could also follow me on Linkedin or Twitter: @E_Bryson

Sketchnotes from Innovate ’21 (day 2)

I’ll start this post by saying what a well organised and inspiring conference Innovate is! I’ve wanted to go for many years, but have never been able to travel during term time to Barcelona. So when I saw that it was online this year, I got my session proposal in straight away.

One of the best things about the conference is that it’s just the right size. There were four sessions to choose from with each timeslot, which offered choice without overwhelming and it was easy to network in the Zoom garden.

On Saturday morning, I woke pondering the run scheduled in my marathon training plan or Fiona Mauchline’s session. The memory of how great Fiona’s previous sessions have been aided my choice. That, plus it was all about the senses. It sounded brilliant. And it was. Here’s my sketchnote:

I took a few hours off in the afternoon to feel guilty about my run (but not actually do it) and add a few drawings to my own session on Engaging Learners Online with Simple Drawings. Sandy Millin did me the wonderful service of taking these wonderfully detailed notes, if you’d like a summary. Thanks, Sandy!

After my session, I couldn’t miss Tyson Seburn’s plenary. It’s amazing how much equality and diversity advice he squeezed into 15 mins! Using the metaphor of a dirty river, he explored the journey ELT has taken. Our metaphorical river is flowing in a cleaner direction now than before but we still have a lot of work to do before ELT Footprinters would deem it ecologically safe! I especially loved his reference to the ELT ‘coursebook closet’. A term coined by Scott Thornbury. Here’s my sketchnotes:


If you’d like to learn how to sketchnote or use simple doodles to communicate, why not join one of my online courses? You can find information here or join my mailing list to hear about the next dates. You could also follow me on Linkedin or Twitter: @E_Bryson





Sketchnotes from Innovate 21 (Day 1)

Today I’ve had the good fortune to attend some amazing sessions at Innovate Online 2021. Four hours on Zoom can take its toll but sketchnoting helped me stay focused and avoid the many distractions that my computer has on offer.

As these are a visual record and summary of the talks, I’ll leave this as a visual post.


Katherine Bilsborough and Ceri Jones discussed all things Ecoliteracy.



Harry Waters gives advice on Becoming a Lean Green Teaching Machine!


Nergiz Kern brought Environmental Topics to Life with Virtual Reality.



Tetiana Myronova introduced her super useful, super positive Reflective Practice Toolkit.


Do you ever use sketchnoting? I’d love to see your examples.

If you’d like to learn how to sketchnote or use simple doodles to communicate, why not join one of my online courses? You can find information here or join my mailing list to hear about the next dates. You could also follow me on Linkedin or Twitter: @E_Bryson


5 essentials for teaching life skills


English language learners often want to learn English to improve their life chances. We can help them do so by incorporating life skills into our practice. In fact, it is my firm belief that teaching English and teaching life skills are the perfect match; each supports the other.

Here are five essentials for supporting learners with life skills.

Create a positive classroom atmosphere

It is not only our approach to teaching that makes ELT the perfect environment for incorporating life skills, it is the environment itself. As trainee teachers, one of the first things we learn is the importance of a welcoming, supportive, and encouraging class atmosphere. Students need to feel comfortable in the classroom and positive about their learning experiences.

Our classrooms must therefore be a safe space to learn from mistakes. We can create this by framing failures as learning opportunities and praising learners for their achievements. Giving students time to think before they respond, opportunities to reflect on their learning, and the chance to practise their skills in a supportive environment are invaluable for encouraging life skills acquisition.

Be patient

In creating a safe space to learn, we must also provide sufficient time for the adoption of life skills. Think about how you first learned to organise your time.  When you were in your early teenage years, it’s unlikely that you were as good at time management as you are now. You probably learned through a combination of advice from peers, teachers, parents, and other role models as well as simple trial and error. It’s possible that you may still feel that you still haven’t yet perfected this life skill. That’s because life skills take time and practice, and everyone is different.  Find out what your students’ aspirations are, give them the confidence to grow, and reassure them that their goals are achievable with a little hard work.

Be a role model

Students naturally look to their teachers for how to behave and succeed. We are role models. By presenting a professional, organised and well-prepared persona, we can inspire our learners to do the same.

Invite questions

Student questions can be tricky, but when they ask difficult questions, that’s when you know their critical thinking skills are developing. Actively encourage your learners to ask questions. Then support them to find the answers for themselves and to help their peers.

critical thinking

Identify goals

In many ways, developing life skills is aspirational. They are not something that anyone can truly say they have mastered and couldn’t improve on in some way. Although I’m regarded as an efficient spinner of many plates and master of deadlines, I may still get caught out with a last-minute photocopier malfunction making me late for class; there’s always room for improvement.  As such, we need to help our students to identify realistic goals based on each individual’s current abilities and give sufficient time to process the information, respond, and incorporate it into their lives.

Identifying individual students’ abilities and goals is a great starting point for incorporating life skills into your classes. Every teaching context is different as are the needs of every learner. Some students will already have a strong grasp of life skills, while others have a longer road to travel. Working with your learners and identifying which life skills are most appropriate to them is a crucial first step.

There are some ideas of how to do this in my previous post: Simple drawings to support life skills.

Want to know more?

My book, 50 Ways to Teach Life Skills is a collection of practical tips and activities to enhance students’ social, academic, critical thinking, digital, and work skills to help students become their best selves.

This guide is simple, supports all levels of learners, and many of the activities require little or no preparation or special materials. Each activity assists students to improve their speaking, reading, writing, listening, grammar, vocabulary, or pronunciation skills while also practising their broader skills for life.

It is available now in print and digital from Wayzgoose Press from just £1.99.

For more info about me, my online courses and books you can sign up to my mailing list, or follow me via this blog or on Twitter: @E_Bryson