Picture It: A Drawing-Based Pre-Reading Activity

 2013_Heyer_Sandra Sandra Heyer
In the last newsletter, I shared drawing tips that make it possible for any teacher, even one as inept at drawing as I am, to convey meaning with simple sketches on the board. In this newsletter, I’ll share some ideas for making drawings the centerpiece of a pre-reading activity.
Many textbooks at the lowest levels have pre-reading drawings built right into the book. For example, each unit at the Very Easy and Easy levels in the True Stories reading series begins with comic-strip-style drawings like those below, which are from Unit 11 in All New Easy True Stories. (The story, titled “The Best Doctor,” is about a woman in Alaska whose knee problem was finally resolved after she was chased by a bear.)
Sandra_Heyer_Feb1Appropriately, textbooks beyond the entry levels do not give students the extensive visual support that picture-based readers do; however, I have found that students above the first levels still benefit from seeing just a few drawings before they read. Where do I find these drawings? I sketch them myself on the board, using drawing tips I learned from the late Norma Shapiro and from her resource book Chalk Talks. I’ve seen the positive effects of this picture-based approach so many times that now I always preview a reading selection with drawings.
How does the preview work? I simply tell students the beginning of the story they’re going to read, all the while drawing simple illustrations on the board. (I usually draw about five sketches.) For example, Unit 10 in the Beginning-level reader True Stories in the News, “Love or Baseball,” is about a guy named Joe who fakes a broken leg to get out of taking his girlfriend to a dance; he’s a baseball fan, and his favorite team is playing in the World Series the night of the dance. I set up the reading with sketches like these:
The key to this technique’s success is to tell just enough of the story to set the stage for the reading selection but stop short of giving the story ending away, ideally stopping at a “cliff-hanger” point. In the case of “Love or Baseball,” I don’t tell my students how Joe manages to fake a broken leg or how his scheme works out for him—they read the story to find out.
You might also want to try these variations of the basic technique: Continue reading

Drawing in the Classroom: It’s Easier than You Think

2013_Heyer_SandraSandra Heyer

When I first began teaching beginning-level English, I was surprised at how many times I found myself at the board, trying to draw a picture for my students. The key word here is trying. I am one of those unfortunate people who literally can’t draw a straight line.

But while I had the misfortune of being an inept artist, I had the good fortune of being a contemporary of the late Norma Shapiro, a gifted teacher who made it her mission to help teachers like me enhance their lessons with passable drawings. At a TESOL conference many years ago, Norma gave a presentation billed as a crash course in drawing for teachers who can’t draw. I came early for a front-row seat and took away drawing tips that have served me well over the course of my career. With the help of Norma’s tips, you might discover, as I did, that drawing for your students is easier than you think. Here are six quick tips:

1. To represent people, don’t draw stick figures — draw figures Norma called “blobs.” Most of the time, you’re just trying to get across the idea that your drawing is a human being and not, say, a fish or a can of soda. So it is usually not necessary to draw ears, arms, or legs. A basic blob has only a head and shoulders:

Drawing in the classroom images 1a

Continue reading

Maximum Benefit, Minimal Prep:
A Quick Song-Based Lesson

2013_Heyer_SandraSandra Heyer

Song lyrics are sometimes difficult for English language learners to comprehend; in fact, some song lyrics are difficult for even native speakers of English to comprehend! (Consider, for example, this line from a Credence Clearwater Revival song: There’s a bad moon on the rise, famously misheard as There’s a bathroom on the right.) That doesn’t mean, though, that a song can’t be a valuable learning tool in the classroom. One way to create a successful song-based lesson is to focus on an aspect of the song that is accessible to English language learners and build an activity around that feature. To do that, you start by examining a song’s lyrics to find a feature you can exploit. (For activities that target one aspect of a song, please see the archived articles in this newsletter or my website, Songs and Activities for English Language Learners.)

For the activity described here, there is no need to give a song that level of scrutiny (although, as always, you will want to make sure the language and content are appropriate for your classroom). All you need is a recording of the song and copies of its lyrics. The simplicity of this lesson, however, doesn’t mean that your role as teacher is any less important. You help students identify which new words are critical to getting the gist of the song’s meaning (and which are not), as well as which new words are worth memorizing. This activity works best if students know at least two-thirds of the words in the song.

Create a Minimal-Prep Song-Based Lesson in 4 Easy Steps:

  1. Students listen to a recording of the song without the lyrics. As they listen, they jot down about five words in the song that they are sure they know. (They do not write down words like the or and.) When the recording is finished, students volunteer their lists of words, and you write them on the board. More often than not, collectively students will come up with the song’s key words. Ask students to guess what the song is about.
  2. Students read the song’s lyrics. You clarify the meaning of new words that are critical to understanding the song, impressing on students that they do not need to understand every new word. Identify which new words are worth memorizing.
  3. Students listen to the song a second time while reading the lyrics.
  4. Students listen to the song a third time, without the lyrics, or they watch the song’s official music video online. (Preview the video first to be sure it’s appropriate for your classroom.)

Sometimes during the course of the lesson, one of the song’s features might pop out at you. You might, for example, notice that it has a chorus that is easy to sing or speak, tells a story that students could summarize, or has a topic that students could personalize with Draw-Write-Share. Then you could, if time allows, expand the lesson on the spur of the moment.

Example: A Minimal-Prep Lesson on the Song “Fight Song”
This song by Rachel Platten debuted last February and has steadily climbed the pop-music charts. Because of its popularity, clear lyrics, and upbeat theme, it is a good choice to bring into the classroom. Continue reading

Back to the Future: Still More Low-Tech Activities
for a High-Tech Classroom

2013_Heyer_Sandra Sandra Heyer

This is the last article in a four-part series on activities that foster physical activity in the classroom. I titled the series “Back to the Future” because my search for activities led me back to time-tested ones I began using years, even decades ago. At first I balked at reviving them; I confess that the razzle-dazzle of the new technology had a stronger pull on me. But when I saw how enthusiastically my class responded, I had to remind myself that although the interactive activities were old hat to me, they were novel to my students, who were accustomed to a teacher-centered learning environment, one in which they rarely, if ever, got out of their seats.

I chose the activities because they might benefit our physical health, but they may have improved our psychological health as well. I think we all enjoyed periodically taking our attention off the big screen at the front of the room and instead focusing on one another. After all, that people-to-people connection, not gliding desks or a high-tech console, is what makes a class great. It’s what has always mattered—and always will.

In previous newsletters, we took a look at six activities:

  1. The Moving Line
  2. Conversation Stations
  3. Walking Dictation
  4. Find Your Match
  5. Opinion, Please
  6. Line Up According To

Below are the final two activities, Find Someone Who and The One-Question Survey. Continue reading

Back to the Future: Even More Low-Tech Activities
for a High-Tech Classroom

2013_Heyer_Sandra Sandra Heyer

In a previous newsletter, I described my state-of-the-art classroom and its hidden drawback: It was making my students and me a little lazy. I was glued to a high-tech console, and my students were glued to the seats of their sleek gliding desks. Concerned that our sedentary classroom style might have a detrimental effect on our health, I looked for a remedy. Fortunately, the problem caused by technology had a simple low-tech solution: interactive activities that got us out of our seats and moving around.

Up to now, we’ve taken a look at four activities: the Moving Line, Conversation Stations, Walking Dictation, and Find Your Match. In this article, let’s consider Opinion, Please and Line Up According To. Both of these activities require no prep time.

Activity 5: Opinion, Please
Levels: All

This activity works well before reading a text as a way to activate prior knowledge, and after reading as a way to begin a discussion. It gets the whole class moving to the front of the classroom.

  1. On opposite ends of the board, write in big letters contrasting responses, for example, YES and NO or AGREE and DISAGREE
  2. Present the class with a question or controversial statement. Give students time to think about their answer or, better yet, to jot down the reason for their response.
  3. Students walk to the front of the room and stand next to the answer that reflects their opinion. Ask volunteers to explain why they chose that answer.

 Examples of Yes-No Questions for Opinion, Please

Figure 1

 These discussion starters complement stories in the True Stories reading series.

“Something in Return”
Easy True Stories,
Unit 20
Is it a good idea to talk to a robber?
“Mr. Venezuela”
All New Easy True Stories,
Unit 3
Do you think beauty contests for men are a good idea?
“The Love Letters”
True Stories in the News,
Unit 4
Do you believe in love at first sight?
“Love or Baseball?”
True Stories in the News,
Unit 10 
Is it ever OK to lie to your boyfriend or girlfriend?
“Surprise! It’s Your Wedding!”
More True Stories,
Unit 16
Is it a good idea to trick someone into marrying you?
“Black Cats and Broken Mirrors”
Even More True Stories,
Unit 9
Are you superstitious?
“Two Yahoos”
Beyond True Stories,
Unit 3
If you had a really great idea, would you drop out of school and start your own company?

Variation: Four Corners. Post four responses in the corners of the classroom—for example, STRONGLY AGREE, AGREE, DISAGREE, STRONGLY DISAGREE. Or, for a multiple-choice quiz, post the letters A, B, C, D, one letter in each corner of the room. Ask a question, and give four possible answers. Students stand next to the letter they think is the answer. Continue reading