Monday, 27 January 2014


Description: This proposal is organized around the theme of deforestation through the use of 3 paintings by Vincent van Gogh, Constable and Seurat, Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree and a short motion graphic video by Sasha Milic, a Norwegian designer, animator and illustrator. The Visible Thinking routines used are: Step Inside: Perceive-Believe-Care About, Sentence-Phrase-Word and Now-Then-Later

Level: Intermediate-Upper Intermediate
Learners: All ages
Theme: Deforestation
Language: Deforestation related vocabulary, 2nd conditional
Skills: Creative understanding, watching 2 short videos, reading, exploring different perspectives and viewpoints, engagement with and capturing text essence, identifying actions to make a situation more fair
Materials: Paintings slides, 2 short videos, story transcript

Step 1
Show students the paintings below and ask them what they have in common. Elicit that all three of them have trees.

Vincent van Gogh, Olive Trees with Yellow Sky and Sun

Constable, The Hay Wain

Georges Seurat, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

Step 2
Ask your students: How do you think these famous paintings would be if they didn’t have trees? Have students express their opinions using the 2nd conditional:  If these paintings didn't have trees I think they would be…

Step 3
Tell them that Edinburgh University's Iain Woodhouse, who maps forests using satellites, photo-shopped the trees out of these famous paintings to show the aesthetic value they have and to draw attention to the threat of global deforestation. Show them the photo-shopped paintings.

Step 4
Work as a whole class and brainstorm your students around ways trees can be useful to people.  

Step 5
Write on the board: The Giving Tree. Tell your students that they are going to watch a video based on a book by an English author, Shel Silverstein with this title. Ask them what they think the book is about. Show the video.

Step 6

Ask your students: how did the story make you feel?

Step 7
Show students the slide share presentation below and ask individual students to read the text in the slides.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein from peneglos

Ask students to step inside the narrative and imagine they are the tree or the boy. From their chosen point of view they should first write down and then speak about what they might perceive-believe-care about. Go around the class and help with vocabulary if needed. Allow 15 minutes and get feedback. As individual students speak from their perspective, the rest of the class could guess which perspective they are speaking from. Keep a visible record of students’ different perspectives and viewpoints.   

Step 8
Hand out the video transcript and ask them to read the story again. While reading ask them to choose: a) a sentence that was meaningful to them, that they feel captures a big idea of the text b) a phrase that moved or engaged them and c) a word that captured their attention or struck them as powerful. Allow 15 minutes and get feedback.
Step 9
Tell students that they are going to watch a short motion graphic video which is an effort to improve environmental awareness about deforestation in Indonesia, one of the countries with the highest rate of deforestation, caused by paper industry. Show the video.

The Forest from Sasha Milic on Vimeo.

Step 10
Ask them to write down the effects of deforestation (reduced biodiversity/wildlife deprived of habitat, release of greenhouse gas emissions, global warming, climate change).

Step 11
Write on the board: Deforestation-let’s make it fair: Now-Then-Later. Ask students to brainstorm ideas for things they might do to “make it fair”. Sort the list into actions that relate to making the situation fair in the past, now, or for the future. As students talk, record their ideas on the board or on chart paper.

(possible ideas: stricter laws for companies, recycle, buy products from recycled materials, reuse,  plant trees)

Step 12
Ask students to choose one idea from the list they feel is most important and expand on it verbally, in writing or explore it creatively (drawings/collages/poems).  
I hope you find this proposal worth experimenting.  

Sunday, 19 January 2014

My Favourite Activity: See-Think-Wonder

I submitted a few days ago my first contribution to the TeachingEnglish blog. I described one of the Visible Thinking Programme Routines that I use regularly and works well. I am very happy and honoured they have accepted my contribution.

My Favourite Activity: See-Think-Wonder

Monday, 13 January 2014

First Day at School

Description: This proposal is designed around the theme of school through the use of the poem “First Day at School” by Roger McGough, one of Britain’s best loved poets, and a relevant animated short video. Students practise reading, hypotheses making and reflect on their first day at school. The Visible Thinking routine used is Explanation Game.    

Level: Intermediate
Learners: All ages
Theme: School  
Language: School and feelings toward school related vocabulary, responding to wh- questions
Skills: Parts of the speech identification, reading a poem, speaking, writing, development of causal explanation and hypotheses making, watching a short video
Materials: Tagxedo slide or hand-out, poem hand-out, a short video

Warm up
Show your students the tagxedo of the poem and ask them to guess what the poem is about from the words they can see in the tagxedo. Keep a visible record of students’ guesses.

Step 1
Pair your students and ask them to look at the tagxedo again and organize as many words as they can in categories: nouns/verb forms (gerunds, participles)/adjectives. Allow 10 minutes and get feedback.

(Alternatively you can hand out the black and white version of the tagxedo)

Step 2
Organize your students in 3 groups, one for each stanza of the poem. Precut and jumble the lines of each stanza. Distribute the jumbled lines of the stanzas to each group. Ask them to order them in the correct sequence. Facilitate students by providing the first line of each stanza. Allow 15 minutes and get feedback. 

Step 3
Give your students the poem to read. Ask groups: a) Do you have any different thoughts now about what the poem is about? b) Can you give a title? Keep a visible record of students’ differentiated thoughts and titles.

Step 4
Say: I notice millionbillionwillion miles (wordplay to show extreme distance from) in the first stanza, lessins (lessons) and glassrooms (classrooms) in the second, yellowellies (wellington boots) in the third. That’s interesting. What do you think they mean? Who is the speaker? (A young child who has just been dropped off by his mother in the playground of a school on his very first day). Then, go on with: I notice railings in the second stanza, wolves and monsters. That’s strange. Where do you think the speaker is? How does he feel? (Confused, alone, slightly scared). Finally, return to lessins and glassrooms and ask your students. Why do you think the poet uses these words? (to show the child’s confusion or misinterpretations of what he has been told about school).

1. The railings that surround the playground are first seen by the child as a protection from outside threats (wolves and monsters) then as prison bars designed to prevent his escape from other monsters (lessins kept in glassrooms).
2. His wellington boots (yellowwellies), his name (I wish I could remember my name), his mother (I wish she was here) reflect his life certainties and the desire for the comfort of his mother's presence.

Step 5
Ask your students: Do you have any other questions about the poem? A visible record of students’ explanations and questions from steps 3, 4 and 5 is kept visible to the class as they are shared.  

Step 6
Ask your students: How would you read this poem? In a comic/funny/sad/serious way? Let groups decide and read the poem in their chosen way.

Note: the tone of the poem is actually a comic one with the intention of empathizing with the child's insecurity and confusion.

Step 7
Reveal the title of the poem and the name of the poet. Then, ask them to respond in writing to the following prompts: a) three things they like about the poem b) three things they don't like or don't fully understand c) three questions they would ask if the poet were here.

Step 8
Tell your students: You are video producers and your job is to present this poem. What images would you use to accompany it? Allow 10 minutes for the groups to write down their ideas. Then, tell them that they’re going to watch a video animation of the poem. Show the video. 

Step 9
Ask them if they liked the video and draw comparisons with their ideas.

Ask students to write a text reflecting on their first day at school.

I hope you find this proposal worth experimenting.