Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Europa and the Bull

Description: This proposal is organized around the myth of Europe through the use of a magnificent painting by the Bulgarian painter/illustrator Svetlin Vassilev and an extract from Ovid’s Metamorphosis. The Visible Thinking routine used is See-Think-Wonder. Students distinguish among Myths/Legends/Fairy Tales, practise observing and speaking while reflecting on the myth of Europe.  

Level: Intermediate+
Learners: 11+
Theme: Myths, Legends, Fairytales, Europa myth
Language: Simple present, present continuous, past forms
Skills: Observing, describing, group discussion, speaking, writing
Materials: painting/definitions slides, downloadable worksheets

Step 1

Show your students Vassilev's "Europa". Ask them:

What do you see? 
What do you think about it? /What are your thoughts? 
What does it make you wonder?

Ask them also to guess the title of the painting.
Europa, Svetin Vassilev

Students can work individually, in groups or in pairs. When I tried this routine with my students we worked  in groups. Their ideas invloved:

Step 2
Write on the board: Myth-Legend-Fairy Tale. Show your students the slide below and ask them to guess which one is a Myth, which a Legend and which a Fairy Tale. 

Verify answers. 

Show the definitions and ask them which narrative form each definition is about. 

 Verify answers. 

Step 3

Reveal the title of the painting and the name of the painter. Have them work in pairs to complete the activities in the worksheet.

Step 4
Get feedback. Give students the worksheet with Ovid’s poem and ask them to work in pairs and order the sentences. After reading the ordered poem ask pairs to complete the other 2 activities. 

Follow up
Ask students to write about their favourite myth, legend, or fairy tale.

I hope you find this proposal worth experimenting.  

Part of this proposal was realized within the framework of the Teachers4Europe 2012-2013 Educational Programme. 

Sunday, 19 October 2014


Description: This lesson proposal is organized around the theme of school through the use of paintings, illustrations, photography, and video. The Visible Thinking routines used are: CHALK TALK, What makes you say that? and See-Think-Wonder.   
Level: Intermediate + 
Learners: 11+
Theme: School  
Language: School related vocabulary  
Skills: Making connections, observing, describing, watching, speaking, note taking
Materials: Paintings/illustrations/photographs slides, a short video

Step 1

Show your students the four visual prompts. Ask them what they have in common. Elicit that all four of them deal with school. Write the word school on the board.

Future Hereux au Japon, Weekly Shōnen Sunday (1969), Japanese manga
At school, Jean Marc Cote (1901) or Villemard (1910)
The naughty school children, T.E.Duverger (circa 1850)
The Country School, Winslow Homer (1871)

Step 2

Introduce the CHALK TALK routine. Place large sheets of paper on desks around the class. Place markers at each table.

Give learners a general prompt to reflect on like:

''What are your ideas, thoughts, feelings, and  questions about school?''

Invite them to move around the classroom, write down their thoughts, read what others have written and comment on the CHALK TALK papers. Point out to students that this routine has to be performed SILENTLY. They can move around freely, reading and commenting, but they cannot talk during the routine.

This is how a group of students I worked with responded to this routine.

Step 3

Show your students the four visual prompts again, and brainstorm a plenary discussion. Ask questions like: 

What do you see?
Do you think the school settings are modern or old?
How are they similar or different to your classrooms?
Forms of punishment?
What strikes you as strange?
What titles would you give?

Step 4

Show students Jon McCormack’s photograph, and ask:

Jon Mccormack Photography

What’s going on?
What do you see that makes you say that?

Then show the second one, and ask:

What do you see?
What do you think about it?
What does it make you wonder?

Jon Mccormack Photography

I used post it notes to make students' answers visible and it looked like this:

Step 5

Write 101,000,000 on the board. Have students guess what the number refers to. Tell them that it is the number of children out of primary education worldwide according to the 2008 UNESCO global database and statistics. Show the pie chart, and ask individual learners to read the numbers aloud. Ask where the biggest and the smallest numbers appear. Ask them why they think this happens.

101 million children of primary school age are out of school
Step 6

Tell them that the photographs they saw were children in rural southwest Kenya who use Kindles in their classroim, as part of the Kilgoris Project. Explain what a Kindle is if they are unfamiliar with it (a thin, lightweight, electronic device for reading downloaded books, newspapers or magazines).

Step 7

Ask students to write, in groups, 3-4 questions they would like to ask about the Kilgoris project. Tell them that they are going to watch a short video about it, and they can see if any of their questions are answered. Show the video. 

The Kilgoris Project : Education / Health / Opportunity from peter berg (fotonimo) on Vimeo.

Step 8

Get feedback from the students in a plenary discussion. Brainstorm students around similarities or differences between their lives and the Kenyan schoolchildren’s lives. 

This is what came out from our class discussion:

Step 9

Ask students to revisit the Chalk Talk papers and add on more comments and thoughts after having completed steps 3-8.

Some of our finished CHALK TALK papers looked like this:

Step 10 

Ask students to reflect on the question: do you think projects like this are the answer to children’s illiteracy in the world?

This is how a student distilled creatively the plenary discussion we had:

And another one through note taking:

I hope you find this proposal worth experimenting.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Teaching English Through Art:Reflection on a MOOC session

Back in July I delivered a session for the International Teacher Development Institute (iTDi) Summer School MOOC. I had attended a couple of online events during the previous months, but this was my first time presenting in such a context. The session was 'Teaching English Through Art'. It involved showcasing how artful stimuli and Thinking Routines can be integrated in the English classroom as a means of developing students' critical thinking skills and creativity alongside their linguistic competence. It drew upon classroom experience from working with my students on a project integrating the use of art and the Making Thinking Visible approach. They were 6th grade primary school students (11 years old), two mixed-ability groups of 20 students each, their level of English ranging from pre-intermediate to upper-intermediate. 

A great number of teachers from more than 20 countries attended the session. In this post I will try to make visible a small part of the participants' thinking and interaction during the session as shared in the rich chat box.

This blog has a separate section on Visible Thinking, but I will also offer some brief reference on thinking routines here:

Thinking Routines are flexible, simple structures such as a set of questions or a short sequence of steps. When applied systematically, these routines help develop students' critical thinking.

Some of  the routines that we worked on:

1. See-Think-Wonder

The participants were shown the image below and asked to answer the questions:

-What do you see?
-What do you think about it?
-What does it make you wonder?

Art in the English Class

Some of the answers offered were as follows:

I see a tree. I think it's winter. I wonder if this is a graveyard. 

I see a graveyard. I think it's quite depressing. I wonder what kind of lesson it was. 

I see abstract thinking. I think students have had quite a touch with art. I wonder how long it takes to develop this. 

I see a different picture. I think they built a concept. I wonder why.

I wonder what experiences the students have had to produce this. 
The See-Think-Wonder routine encourages careful observations and thoughtful interpretations. You can use it to stimulate curiosity and set the stage for further engagement with a topic. Paintings, photographs, interesting objects can be used to prompt learners' observations, thoughts, and wonderings. In this case, I used it as a way to introduce the session participants to the idea of integrating artful stimuli and Thinking Routines in the English classroom. At the same time, I used it as a means of reflecting upon another routine, the

2. Colour-Symbol-Image  thinking routine

What the participants saw was how a group of the students I worked with distilled creatively the essence of ideas explored through watching, reading, and discussing when we dealt with the theme of War/Peace. The Colour-Symbol-Image routine is a way to encourage individual or group expression, both verbally and non-verbally. It can be used at the end of a topic and asks learners to select a colour/a symbol/an image that they feel represent the ideas discussed, and to explain why they chose it.

The students who produced this image had chosen to represent war. During the theme they were exposed to a variety of art, audio/visual, and textual stimuli such as paintings, photographs, a short animation film. This enhanced their symbolic and metaphoric thinking. We needed eight 40-minute teaching sessions to complete the theme. The Colour-Symbol-Image routine was used at the last session.

3. Another routine that we tried was 'What makes you say that?' 

Participants were asked to look at this painting

Matt Mahurin, Bullying
and reflect on these questions:

-What's going on?
-What do you see that makes you say that?

This routine helps learners describe what they see and invites them to build explanations. It promotes evidence-based reasoning.

Some of the sharing that took place among participants:

The bigger girl is bullying the smaller one. She looks threatening and there must be some figures behind her. 

Maybe the smaller girl feels she has no support-teetering on the edge of a cliff. Bigger girl intimidating with support. 

She's going to push her over. Her clenched fist indicates an angry persona. 

Shadows represent support even though we don't see their bodies.

People watching, but not doing anything. The case with bullying usually.

What is fascinating in this that half of the girl is darkened by the shadow of the older one. 

...students are cognitively and emotionally engaged...and this would be a good base for a speaking and writing task. 

This is very thought provoking...makes students think...and talk...

Open-ended activity, no right or wrong answers, students are encouraged to express themselves.  

These routines also help the teacher to develop his own critical thinking.

The group of teachers who attended the MOOC was an amazing audience who took part actively and enthusiastically in the activities, sharing, and commenting. As one of the participants put it: "This is really a group of word artists". These are some of their insightful comments on the use of art and thinking routines in the English classroom:

Helps students make strong connections between ideas and language. 

It is a fantastic way to give students forum for free thought and associations. 

It levels the playing field in learning. 

Students express deep feelings. Become more sympathetic. 

These activities stimulate creativity, critical thinking skills, English language skills, and respect for other people's opinion. 
Routines promote descriptive language and stimulate observation. 

Stimulates your mind to think and to re-think again and again...

No right/wrong answer so sense of security for learners.

It taps into the students' imagination, feelings, creativity, vocabulary.

These kinds of activities draw the language from them.

Consistent and prolonged use of thinking routines cannot but nurture a culture of thinking. Like breathing.

Diversity of thinking is stimulated like this. No set answers neither answers in the teacher's mind the students try to guess. 

Very learner centred.
4. The last routine we tried in the session was 

'I used to think..Now, I think...'

It is a routine to have learners reflect on how and why their thinking has changed. It is best to use it at the end of a topic or issue. I asked participants to reflect on what they used to think about using art in their English classes before the session, and what they thought about it, at the end of the session.

I used to think it's impossible to programme the thinking process of students. Now, I think art is a powerful way, which can make this process not only possible, but also enjoyable for students.

I used to think it was a great stimulus for my Dogme lessons. Now, you have given me some fresh ideas for thought. 

I used to think my students wouldn't like to work with art. Now, I think they will love it.  

I used to think teaching through art was tricky. Now, I think it's fun. 

I used to think that teaching through high brow art is too academic. Now, I think it can be very involving.

I used to think I had no need for art in my English classes. Now, I think I was wrong, and I'm looking forward to trying it out.

I used to think that teaching through art was mostly for older students but now I think it is good for my primary students too.

I used to think art could be useful in order to visualize some ideas. Now, I think it has a much deeper potential that could be explored in class.

I used to think that teaching grammar was enough. Now, I think art is a wonderful tool to explore language use. 

I used to think there was no use for art in esl. Now, I think I can't wait to try it.

I used to think art might have difficult notions for students to talk about, now I think that there are ways to motivate them. 

I used to think very few children would appreciate works of art. Now, I think it can be turned into a very creative and amazing activity.

I used to think that art just belongs to artists but now I think it's a perfect device for teaching. 

This was a great group of teachers who made this MOOC session a truly worthwhile learning experience. Thank you all so much! Special thanks to Chuck Sandy and iTDi for encouraging, and supporting this session. Recording can be found here.