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: https://www.menti.com/zp1ajaytg1
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’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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I can’t tell you how excited I was to be back in the classroom this week. I got to teach real live students! It was wonderful.
I also got to use a whiteboard. And a whiteboard marker! What a treat!
The beginning of term is a time for welcoming learners, getting to know them and double checking they know exactly where they are going and when.
This year, I’m teaching a beginner and a starter class. I tend to find that writing times, dates and room numbers on the board can lead to confusion. Drawing some simple icons can help make this information clearer.
I’d like to share the simple icons I use with you. You’ll notice that these are not works of art, that my whiteboard is a little smudged and that I probably wrote these in a hurry. That’s because I did. I’m a teacher. That’s how we roll!
How do you welcome your learners? How do you make sure they understand their induction information? I’d love to hear your ideas, or to see your whiteboards!
If you like these ideas, and want to learn more about Engaging Learners with Simple Drawings, I’ve started running online courses. The current course is fully booked, but I’ll be running another in the near future.
I recently delivered a webinar for National Geographic Learning on Embedding Employability and Life Skills into the ESOL Curriculum. Along with all the engaging ways the Voices coursebook series embeds employability (watch this space for another post), I shared some of the wonderful projects from across Europe that support ESOL learners’ employability and life skills. Here they are:
This organisation is near to my heart as I have worked so closely with them over the years. The ESOL for Vocational Purposes courses which I developed for City of Glasgow College have mostly been in collaboration with Bridges. This well-oiled machine supports anyone living in Glasgow whose first language is not English by delivering training and arranging volunteer or work placements. This image is of my learners on a construction site visit. https://www.bridgesprogrammes.org.uk/
Heart and Parcel
Two friends in Manchester set up this organisation because they believed food brings people together. ESOL learners can sign up to their free online English classes and learn to cook at the same time. They also run cookalong classes to teach people how to cook dishes from around the world. https://heartandparcel.org/
Bread and Roses
I found out about this organisation while hillwalking in the Cairngorms with a friend. Their friend was up from London and told me about the amazing subscription floristry project she ran. Bread and Roses run floristy training programmes for women from refugee backgrounds to help them improve their language and work skills. Genius. https://www.wearebreadandroses.com/
East London Advanced Technology Training (ELATT) run pretty much every vocational skills course you can name. They want to make learning new skills accessible to all and offer full, part-time and evening courses. https://www.elatt.org.uk/
City of Glasgow College ESOL Job Club
I can’t write a post without mentioning my fabulous co-worker Pam Turnbull and the incredible things she has done for the learners at my college. Pam tirelessly networks with the local community to create work, volunteer and apprenticeship opportunities for ESOL students at City of Glasgow College. She also supports them with job searches and applications. She’s a true shero. The image is one of our CoGC students on a Modern Apprenticeship with Arnold Clark.
Laget Quo Vadis
I had the good fortune of visiting this organisation on an Erasmus+ funded trip to Oslo a few years ago and their innovative work has stuck with me. This organisation provides Norwegian classes and trains learners in textiles, ceramics and cooking. Graduates leave with strong transferrable skills and the confidence to succeed. http://www.laget.oslo.no/about
The Kurdish and Middle Eastern Women’s Organisation is a London based organisation who provide training, advocacy and support for women from Kurdish, Middle Eastern and North African communities in the UK. They offer training in digital skills, employability, ESOL, parenting and exercise classes. https://www.kmewo.com/
Code your Future
CyF are a coding school for people from refugee backgrounds and disadvantaged people. They are a non-profit organisation that trains marginalised groups to be web developers and find employment in the tech industry. CyF training is delivered by volunteers and graduates have progressed to prestigious organisations such as BBC, Financial Times and Ticketmaster. https://codeyourfuture.io/
These are just a few of the inspiring organisations and projects that I’ve heard of over the years. Do you know any others? Please share anything I could in the comments or via my twitter.
So you may have seen my previous blog posts, social media messages or attended one of my training sessions. You might have heard me say ‘I’m a Graphic Facilitator’ or ‘Graphic Facilitation is great for the English Language Classroom.’…. you then might have thought…
Well, Graphic Facilitation is the use of simple, hand-drawn, graphics to support groups or individuals towards their goals. Traditionally, Graphic Facilitators use large sheets of paper, flipcharts or whiteboards and markers to engage participants. Online, Graphic Facilitators can do this using pre-drawn visuals, a graphics tablet, drawing software or a visualiser.
Some examples of Graphic Facilitation techniques involve using very simple hand-drawn icons, visual templates, graphic organisers, infographics, mindmaps and sketchnotes. Having used Graphic Facilitation techniques for a few years now, I can safely say that they work very well indeed in the language classroom.
Why? Here’s why…
It’s multisensory and aids critical thinking.
Learners can observe the visual, listen and understand its explanation or instructions, analyse it, apply it, share their interpretations, write about it, or create their own.
It makes things memorable.
In my previous blog posts I’ve written about the drawing effect, which found that drawing aids vocabulary retention. It also makes pages of notes, resources and materials more distinct, which in turn makes them more memorable.
Here’s a quick sketchnote I made of Joan Kang Shin’s IATEFL 2021 talk on Visual Literacy. Wouldn’t you agree it’s more memorable than a page of text?
It aids understanding.
Adding a quick drawing, asking your learners to draw or using a visual as a concept check is an excellent way to find out if they have understood.
It can be used to teach grammar, vocabulary, reading, writing, speaking, listening and pronunciation. You can use it to plan out lessons, curriculums or meeting agendas. I even used it to capture my students’ reflections at the end of term. This template can be used in in various ways:
Photocopy it and use a pen or pencil.
Online – share your screen and use annotation tools.
Send them a copy and ask them to use digital drawing tools to complete it.
Ask them to draw their own. You could ask them to add their own sections (e.g. a cline for digital skills).
It’s quick and copyright free.
The visual capture sheet above took about ten minutes to draw. The same document would probably have taken me about an hour fiddling about with tables in a word document or canva and searching for copyright free stock photos. Granted, it took me a while to learn to draw those icons quickly, but it’s a bit like learning the alphabet; it takes a bit of time but once you know it, you wonder how you ever lived without it.
It is my firm belief that Graphic Facilitation enhances and supports the language learning experience. I’d love ELT practitioners to gain confidence using it…
…so I’m now running online courses! Engaging Learners with Simple Drawings!
The number one aim of the online language class is for our learners to learn English. Teaching digital skills online can distract from the language objectives of the lesson, so it can be wise to start with a platform they already know (e.g. Whatsapp) and check-in frequently with learners individually to encourage them ask any questions or raise any concerns.
Drip feed the digital
So you’ve started on familiar territory. Students feel calm and confident about their learning, but ideally, you want to add variety to their learning experience and develop their digital skills. In a wonderful webinar for MN ABE Professional Development in 2020, Amy Van Steenwyk advised teachers to keep online tasks simple and allow students to master one online activity at a time.
This is very much my recommendation too. Think about a skill and break it into smaller sub-skills. These would be my steps in Zoom:
Start with downloading Zoom > logging in > click link to login > turn on/off sound > turn on/off video > use chatroom > use annotation tools > use breakout rooms > share screen in break out rooms > conquer the Zoom world.
Use familiar language
One of the first things a trainee English language teacher learns is to modify their language so that students understand their instructions. This should also be the case when teaching digital skills. Consider using the colour of the button or its location on the screen rather than the jargon. For example, Amy Van Steenwyk advises telling students to ‘click blue’ rather than ‘join’ when using breakout rooms, a word which they may not know. The need for this can, of course, be avoided if you automatically assign students to breakout rooms, but the principle applies for giving instructions.
Teach unknown language
The digital world is full of jargon: breakout room, sign-in, register, join, annotate, comment. Teaching these terms is often the first step in teaching digital skills. Before asking learners to perform a task online, think about what language they might need for it. I like to keep a Google Slides doc full of helpful icons and vocabulary that I can quickly refer to during class. I drew this visual to teach the term ‘Breakout room’. You may recognise it is from my previous post on Tips for Online Teaching. Feel free to use it with your own learners, or better, copy the simple drawing yourself.
Use instructional videos and screenshots
Instructional videos can be super handy when training learners with technology. When making these, I find it helps to focus on one thing (e.g. annotating) as it’s easier to find and share the one you need at the time you need it. If a learner just needs a refresher on accessing the annotation tool, there’s no need to send them a 40 minute epic on how to do EVERYTHING on Zoom – a screenshot with a comment or a short video will do. One skill at a time. Even better if it’s in their first language. In general, videos should be less than ten minutes. Think TED Talks. There’s a reason they are short and sweet.
Encourage first language & peer support
If you wanted to learn digital skills, would you do it in your L1 or a language you are learning? I’d certainly do it in my L1! Allowing learners to access devices and instructional videos in their L1 can be immensely helpful. Encourage learners to support each other in their first language when and if necessary. This could be in class, or asking students with strong digital skills to support their peers. I’ve also found family members living with students to be incredibly helpful.
Refer to digital skills courses
The world of digital skills training is not just in English. There are plenty of courses available for learners to access in their first language. My previous blog post has a list. If you know of any more, I’d be happy to add them!
I recently sent out a survey (click here to take it, there’s still time) on how English Language Teachers use drawings in the classroom. I was a little surprised to discover a belief that drawings work best in live classes. I would like to lay this myth to rest.
There are a few ways you can draw online.
Draw before class. Scan the image with your phone (I use Camscanner). Send to your students.
Stick some A3 paper on your wall (I make paper tape less sticky by sticking it to my clothes first). Point your webcam at it.
Pin a flipchart to your wall (I used two panel pins). Point your webcam at the flipchart.
Buy a visualiser and display a video stream of you drawing on a notebook at your desk. Mine is an Ipevo.
Another myth is that using drawings in an online class takes time. I’d argue it actually saves time by reducing preparation time.
To prove it, here’s a quick lesson I did recently. It took zero prep (well, a tiny bit of thinking time before class). It was the first week back after holidays and we were revising past tense word order in questions. The aim was to get students talking about their holidays to prepare them for writing about it at home.
Step 1: Draw some simple icons to represent each question you want them to discuss. Display the simple visual prompts. Students can later use these icons as prompts for writing.
Step 2: Discuss with students what each prompt might mean. Ask students to match where, when, what and who to each icon. Once they’ve matched the more obvious icons, support them to add ‘Did’ and ‘How’.
Step 3: Ask students to write a question for each icon, starting with the question words. You could ask them to write their answers in the chatroom, collaborate in a Google Doc or to work together in breakout rooms. Feedback and write up the questions as a whole class. Discuss grammatical features of past tense word order in questions.
Step 4: Ask students to discuss the questions in breakout rooms. Feedback as a whole class. Discuss new vocabulary.
Step 5: Show students a model text about what someone did in their holidays (e.g. an email or social media post), or collaboratively create one using the language experience approach. Ask students to write about their holidays for homework.
It’s basically four steps: visual prompts, written prompts, elicit questions, discuss questions.
You can use this technique for various topics and grammatical points simply by changing the icons. It’s a great way to stimulate learners, give visual clues and get them talking. It can be used face to face or online. I’d love to know if you use it or have ideas of other ways to use it.
Recently I’ve become a bit obsessed with using drawings in the classroom. In this high-tech era, drawing is a back to basics approach and the perfect excuse to get away from a screen. My drawings are quick and simple. They are not attempting to be Takashi Murakami or Christine Clark. They have at times drawn funny looks (pun totally intended) or initiated laughter, but that’s OK. Students get the message and we have fun doing so. Plus, imperfect drawings teach students that it’s ok to be imperfect – and encourages them to confidently create their own imperfect drawings.
Using drawings in class is a brilliant multisensory way of adding some fun to your lessons, concept checking, get students thinking critically and as a tool for mediation. It’s also great for memory. The drawing effect refers to a 2016 study by Wammes, Meade and Fernandes which found that drawing can aid vocabulary retention. The study gave participants a list of simple words and asked them to either write the word repeatedly or draw it. The results showed that participants recalled twice as many drawn words as written.
The best bit is that drawing works well online and face to face. Hand-drawn visuals engage participants as they bring a piece of analogue into the digital world. You can prepare the visuals before class. In a live class you can point your webcam at a notebook or flipchart, treat yourself to a visualiser or use the annotate tools. Obviously your drawings won’t be as pretty using a mouse but isn’t that part of the fun? Again, it’s not about artistic magnificence, it’s about communication.
There are lots of ways to use drawings and visuals in the classroom. You can check out my previous blogs posts, or this padlet where I have compiled some of my favourites from other ELT afficionados. Feel free to contact me with any others I should add.
Neil Cohn has some wonderful research into the use of drawings as a visual language. One of his papers discusses how most people lose their drawing ability in their teens, and with it their visual communication skills. He has found the use of drawings to be beneficial to interaction, motor skills, feedback, culture, motivation and emotions.
This research resonates with me. When I was about 12 or 13, I had to choose which courses to study at school. I swithered a lot between PE or Art but finally chose PE because at the time I wanted to be a personal trainer. When I broke the news to my art teacher, he looked genuinely dejected. I wish someone had told me that learning to draw is a communication skill for life while fitness comes and goes.
Many people believe that they can’t draw, and I have to admit that until I met Emer O’Leary I had started to believe this myth about myself. Her Secrets of Simple Graphics course put me back on the visual pathway and led me to signing up to go full Graphic Facilitator.
I’d love to support the ELT community to grow their visual vocabulary and add ‘visual’ to their list of lingua francas. I’m now running Online Courses to help you do this!