Monday, 6 April 2015

Beginning-Middle-End: Creative writing and storytelling

In this post I will describe the Beginning-Middle-End thinking routine. It is a routine that stems from the Artful Thinking approach which aims at stronger thinking and learning through the power of art. Both Artful and Visible Thinking programmes are designed by Harvard's Project Zero research group. They draw on the use of routines to prompt the development of students' thinking skills and dispositions. 

I have found this routine an effective way to a) stimulate students' imagination and curiosity b) encourage their observation and strategies of making predictions and c) help develop their creative writing and storytelling skills through the power of narrative. This emphasis on storytelling also encourages students to look for connections, patterns, and meanings. 

It works best with intermediate+ students. 

Step 1
Show students an artful stimulus (painting, image, screenshot from a film, sculpture). Ask them to look at it in silence for a couple of minutes. 

Step 2
Hold a plenary discussion by brainstorming ideas about things and key elements students see in the stimulus. If students share their interpretations ask them what they see that supports this idea. 
Step 3
Ask students to choose, think and respond to one of these questions:

1. If what you see is the beginning of a story, what might happen next?
2. If it is the middle of a story, what might have happened before? What might happen next?
3. If it is the end of a story, what might the story be?

Students can work in small groups, in pairs or individually.
Step 4
Have students share their thinking and ideas. 
Classroom practice
When working with my students on the topic of War/Peace I showed them a screenshot from the beautiful short animation film Chromophobia by the Belgian film maker Raul Servais. Then they worked in groups and each group chose one of the questions (step 3) to work on. After that they watched the film. 
Screenshot from Chromophobia

This is what students came up with:



  • The questions in the routine are written in an open-ended way. You can use them as such with any artful visual stimulus. You can also connect them with a specific topic - as in the classroom example above - and ask students to keep this topic in mind when they imagine their stories. 
  •  Students can come up with sentences or paragraphs.
  •  The routine can also work well as a speaking activity. In this case work as a whole class  by asking someone to begin a story and having others continue it.

Art in the English Class Project, Chromophobia: Beginning-Middle-End
Visible Thinking,

Friday, 20 March 2015

3-2-1 Bridge: A creative warm-up and follow-up routine

In this post I will talk about the 3-2-1 Bridge thinking routine. The word Bridge is used to indicate the routine has two related stages. I have found it an interesting and effective activity in prompting students' creative thinking. This applies to a) activating their prior knowledge on a topic, b) fostering their readiness in generating ideas c) extending their thinking to new directions and d) facilitating reflection on this shift in their thinking. The routine works well as warm-up at the beginning and as a follow-up at the end of a topic. 

Step 1
At the beginning of the topic ask students to generate

3 words
2 questions
1 simile

that quickly come to mind when they think of this topic. Students can work individually, in pairs or in groups. Explain that similes are connections we make, comparing one thing to another because they are alike in some way. The words “like” or “as” are typically used. Ask students for an example of a simile first and provide one yourself if needed.

Step 2
Share the thinking. Ask students to share their ideas with their classmates and make them visible within the classroom.

This is how my students responded to this part of the routine. I tried it with 2 groups of 6th grade primary school students (mixed ability, pre-intermediate/intermediate). We did this routine when working on the topic of friendship. Students first recorded their responses in their notebooks, shared them with their classmates, and displayed them in the classroom on post-it notes.

Step 3
Provide a period of further learning and elaborating on the topic. This may be a text, story, video, image that conveys new information. Make sure that this instructional period is sufficient for students to move their thinking beyond their initial understandings.

Step 4
At the end of the topic, return to the 3-2-1 routine and repeat step 1. That is, ask the students again for 3 words, 2 questions and 1 simile about the topic.

Step 5
Share the thinking by Bridging. You can do this by holding a plenary discussion or having students discuss in pairs how their thinking and final responses might be similar or different from their initial ones. 

In my classroom practice the instructional period involved: a set of questions for students to reflect upon and respond, an extract from a poem, a extract from a short story and a short animation film. It was really interesting how after reading, watching and discussing, new thoughts and ideas came to the fore. Students' final response to the 3-2-1 Bridge revealed a more extended use of the notions of judging, rejection, weakness, betrayal, jealousy and selfishness  when we think about friendship than in their initial responses.  These notions may have to do with many different issues, but some of the ones students thought are important were: appearance, disability, coming from another country, being a very good or a bad student. As one student wrote in her final remarks:

Why don't you want me?
Because I'm ugly, too short, fat
or from another country?
Do you reject me?

It was also interesting that in their final responses many of the students wrote they believed that empathy is important when we talk and think about friendship.

Tip: the routine works well with topics students have prior knowledge of. 

You can have a look here for the whole picture of how this routine was applied in the classroom.


Thursday, 26 February 2015

Headlines: Recycling Vocabulary Creatively

A post I wrote for the Teaching English British Council blog community on recycling vocabulary creatively through the use of the Headlines thinking routine.

An interview to Vicky Papageorgiou

Vicky Papageorgiou a dear friend and worthy colleague wanted to know a few things about my relationship with art and ELT. Here is the link to her blog where you can read the interview. Thanks to Vicky I also had the chance to create this short video where I explain a few things about the Art in the English Class Project. It is a project I have been working on with my pre-intermediate/intermediate mixed ability 6th grade students (11 years old). It explores the integrated use of thinking routines and artful stimuli as a means of fostering students' creative thinking alongside their linguistic competence in English. 

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Artful Stimuli & Visible Thinking: Fostering Communication of Thought in ELT

Happy and honoured to have been invited by the British Council to talk at the TESOL Greece event The Art of Communication. The invitation came because of my contibution to the upcoming British Council's publication on Creativity in Language Teaching (Co-editors: Nik Peachey and Alan Maley). I am sharing the ppt presentation of the talk.  

Friday, 6 February 2015

Inages on Canvas - The Image Conference Cordoba

At the end of November I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at the Image Conference, in Cordoba, Spain. The Conference is an event that puts media and images at the heart of language learning. This year it was organised by IH Cordoba. It was a really worthy and thought-provoking experience. 

The focus of my session was how we can use artful stimuli and Thinking Routines to foster students' creative and critical thinking alongside their English language skills. The session drew upon experience from a classroom project with my 6th grade primary school students, the Art in the English Class Project.

I am sharing the ppt presentation and some feedback provided by participants at the end of the session.



Sunday, 1 February 2015


Description: This lesson proposal is organized around the theme of friendship. 

Source material: Best Buddies, a painting by Keith Haring, a short extract from Ruth Krauss's book I'll Be You and You Be Me, an extract from Hans Christian Andersen's The Ugly Duckling, and Broken Wing, a short animation film by Amos Sussigan. 

The thinking routines used are: 3-2-1 Bridge, Sentence-Phrase-Word and Headlines

Level: Intermediate+
Learners: 11+
Topic: Friendship
Language: Friendship related language, Present Simple, Past Simple, can/should, 1st conditional
Skills: Observing, describing, discussing, watching, note taking, linking prior knowledge with new ideas and thoughts, engaging with meaning from text with a particular focus on "what speaks to them", capturing and summarizing the essence of a topic.

Step 1

Show students Best Buddies by Keith Haring. Ask them to describe it and guess the title. Reveal the title of the painting and the name of the painter.

Best Buddies, Keith Haring 1990

Step 2

Ask students to work in groups and write:
3 words
2 questions
1 simile
that quickly come to their mind when they think about friendship. 

Explain that similes are connections we make, comparing one thing to another because they are alike in some way. The words “like” or “as” are typically used. Provide a simile example first if needed. Friendship is  like... 

Here are some ideas the students I worked with had:

Step 3

Write on the board the saying: To have a good friend, you need to be a good friend. Then, ask students to reflect on the questions:

-What is a friend?
-What qualities do you think are important in a friend?
-How can you be a good friend? (I can be a good friend, if...)
-What things should friends never do?

Have them discuss the questions in pairs or in groups. Get feedback in the form of a plenary discussion.

Step 4

Show students the 2 slides from Ruth Krauss's book I'll Be You and You Be Me. Read them aloud in class.  

I'll Be You and You Be Me
I'll Be You and You Be Me

Then show them this quote by Plutarch:

Discuss what they think the important ideas in the poem and the quote are. 

Step 5

Give students the extract from Hans Christian Andersen's The Ugly Duckling. You might consider reading the extract first to the students. Then, have them read silently.

Ask them to select individually or in groups:
A sentence that is meaningful to them, that they feel expresses a main idea of the text.
A phrase that moves or engages them.
A word that has caught their attention; that they think it is powerful.

Note: Students can start with any item they like (sentence, phrase or word) and they can also skip an item if it does not work well (phrase might be a bit confusing).

Share ideas as a whole class discussion. Ask them to explain if they can their choices. Finally, reflect by asking:
-Are there any common themes that have now emerged?
-Why do you sometimes don't want someone to be your friend?
-How do you treat a non-friend?

Write on the board: A friend in need is a friend indeed. Ask students what they think the proverb means.

Step 7

Show students this image from the Broken Wing animation film. Ask them how the image makes them feel and why.

Then show them the next image from the film and do the same.

Ask them to compare the two images and say how they are different. Then ask them to guess what story the film might tell.

Step 8

Tell students that the images are from a short film called Broken Wing. Tell them that after watching they will have to write a short narrative of what happens in the film. Show the film. 

Broken Wing [Film] from amossussigan on Vimeo.

Step 9

Ask students to work in groups and write the short narrative in Present or Past Simple. Get feedback.

Step 10

Go back to step 2 and to the 3-2-1 Bridge routine. Ask students to write: 3 words, 2 questions and 1 simile when they think about friendship.
Bridge by sharing ideas and seeing how new responses are similar or different from the beginning. 

Step 11

Ask your students:
If you had to write a Headline in a newspaper or a magazine about friendship now that would capture the most important aspect of the issue, what would that be? 

I hope you find this proposal worth experimenting. 

You can have a look at classroom practice here