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!
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.
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!