Category Archives: Day by Day in the Classroom

Does Turning Words into Numbers Aid Retention of Vocabulary? An Experiment

Different representations of numbers

Once upon a time, there were telephones that had letters of the alphabet by each number.

Letters of the alphabet have numerical values too.

I even read about a method in which one turns telephone numbers into letters as a method for committing them to memory.

However, when I searched online for a connection between activities using words and numbers (as opposed to words and pictures) and vocabulary retention, the only result I encountered had to do with Rebuses and rebus puzzles, which are good for activating both sides of the brain.  Good to know!  Rebuses are fun but hard to make…

Frankly, I was looking for justification for adapting my “Magic E Telephone” SPEAKING activity (which was based on Teresa Bestwick’s “Minimal Pairs Telephone”) to a LET’S ENGAGE WITH VOCABULARY ACTIVITY.  There are several profoundly Deaf students who rarely use voice or speak at all, and rely completely on sign language for communication, in my 10th-grade class. They would feel excluded in a group activity involving speaking.

I wanted to find out if the students would still pay attention to the “Magic E” and if the adapted activity along with additional activities would help them remember the vocabulary items.

Here’s what I did:

I used the original 10 index cards and attached them to an existing activity board (little pockets for flashcards).

Above each word, there was a number, zero to nine.

I asked the students what the difference was between the words that look mostly similar (hat /hate). They all noticed the letter “e ”.  I explained about the Magic E and its effect on pronunciation but emphasized the fact that the addition of the “E” changes the meaning of the word.

I then divided the students into groups of three. Each group had three tasks:

  1. One student had to sign the word for each digit of his cell phone number. Student number two had to write down the numbers being signed so everyone could see if it matched. Student number three timed them and recorded the time. Then they switched roles.
The whiteboard was our scoreboard

You may be surprised, but it isn’t so simple to think of a number and then say a word or sign it without pointing! I found myself wanting to point to each word! It all goes slower than rattling off numbers. Try it!

2. Student number one presented student number two with a series of index cards. On each card, there was a “math problem” written in words, such as: “hat + hate = ?”  “hate X cape = ?” on one side.  The numerical solution was written on the other side.

Student number two had to solve the math equation by answering with a number.

Student number three recorded the time.  Then they switched roles.

The “word-math” cards

3. The same activity as before but the students answered with the word that the number denotes.

Initial Conclusions – Pros & Cons

  • We all had fun!
  • The students liked all the activities but they found the one with phone number more challenging and amusing and spent more time on that.
  • Students at different levels could play together.
  • One advanced student encountered the word “hope” in his text the next day. He asked if that was also a “magic E”!

BUT…

  • The cards were fixed in place – the location of the words served as a memory aid. Next time cards should be shuffled.
  • It seems a great deal of energy spent with very few vocabulary items learned, and not particularly important ones. It was more effective as a speaking exercise when the students repeatedly had to say the word.

At least everyone activated both sides of their brains and their bodies!

 

 

 

The Joy of SIMPLE “Self-Check” Activities

A party of one…
Naomi’s Photos

There are all sorts of sophisticated self-check activities out there, ones that look stunning but seem to require artistic abilities that I don’t possess,  props one needs to get a hold of  (such as clear plastic covers of chocolate boxes) or are simply too time-consuming to create.

There are countless variations, such as using puzzle pieces and dominoes and many more. I truly admire these activities and their creators.

Such sophistication is simply not for me. Not anymore.

However,  I did want an effective self-check exercise that I could make on my own, one which I could sneak in a few words from the Band Two Word List that students need to practice.

Particularly one which I could prepare easily.

Scatter the cards on the table. Make sure the word START is face up.

Easy to prepare like the self-check activity involving two-sided index cards. A student begins with the card that says START, flips it over, matches it to its corresponding index card, flips that one over, and continues matching until he/she reaches the card that says THE END.  If the student flips over THE END  before all the cards have been matched then a mistake has been made, and he/she will have to backtrack.

Simple!

I learned of this activity many years ago from Tal Papo. I’m sure many of you are familiar with it!

In my learning center for Deaf and hard of hearing high school students, the students progress at different paces. That means that each student is ready for a review activity related to the story they have just completed at a different time.

In this particular case, the story in question is called “Thank You, Ma’am” by Langston Hughes.

I defined vocabulary items that are related to this story from the Band Two Word List, as you can see by clicking on the following link. https://quizlet.com/_63ru7n  In my previous post related to this story I defined words from Band Three Word List and the questions I created.

The word “description” ignited the idea for the activity.  The word “belong” fit in nicely too.  The vocabulary items “crime” and “pair” are also on the list.

Matching sentences DO NOT appear on the same index card!

Here are the corresponding sentences. Remember! The first sentence is written on the back of the card that says START! The words “THE END” appears on the back side of the card that has the last matching sentence. In other words, sentences that match do not appear on the same card!

START –

  • She was a large woman with a purse.    ** A description of Mrs. Jones.
  • It was heavy and had a long strap.  It was large.       ** A description of the purse that belonged to Mrs. Jones.
  • He looked as if he were fourteen or fifteen, frail and thin. His face was dirty.      ** A description of Roger.
  • In the corner, behind a screen, there was a gas plate and an icebox. There was a daybed too.      ** A description of the room that belonged to Mrs. Jones.
  • He tried to steal her purse.    ** A description of Roger’s crime.
  • A pair of blue suede _____________.      ** A description of the shoes Roger wanted to buy.
  • She picked him up and shook him until his teeth rattled. She kicked him too.      **A description of Mrs. Jones’ reaction when Roger tried to steal her purse.
  • She gave him ten dollars and then led him to the front door.         **A description of Mrs. Jones’ actions at the end of the story.
  • THE END

I hope you find it useful too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Woe! What if EVERYTHING in the English Room “Sparks Joy”? A Comment

Joy in the classroom!
Figures by Yankol. Naomi’s Photos.

I was delighted to read Chia Suan Chong’s useful and inspiring post “Tidying my ELT mess with the KonMari Method™  .   

“ELT mess”… the phrase resonates with me. My EFL classroom /learning center caters to Deaf and hard of hearing students at every possible level. In addition, I’ve been teaching for a long long time… As you can imagine, the classroom closet is PACKED! It’s not chaotic, I’m not ashamed to open its doors in front of visitors, but it is way too full to be useful! It is also harder to keep organized when it is so full.

Just like everyone else, I’ve encountered Marie Kondo’s tidying up method. My sock drawer says “thank you, Marie”! Yet I had no idea how to apply the method, even partially, in the classroom. If the basis of the method is “Sparking Joy” – how does that relate to classroom materials?

Not only does Chia Suan Chong present the reader with some practical advice on applying this organizational method specifically for ELT teachers, but the author also explains how to relate the term “spark joy” to ELT teaching materials.

So off I went to utilize some non-consecutive free periods and declutter that classroom closet”!

There seems to be a problem…
Naomi’s Photos

I ran into trouble pretty quickly.

Sigh.

For one thing, it seems you can’t skip stages.

Placing the stationery items back into their designated little plastic containers is not a problem to do during a free period. I do that from time to time anyway (staplers start migrating to the glue box, markers end up with the scissors, you know what I mean).

No problem. Well done!

But I can’t possibly take out all the books in the closet all at once and make a big pile. I need to teach in a classroom that doesn’t look like a big mess and I can’t deal with all the books in 45 minutes!

So, I decided to begin looking at the books on the top shelf on the right side of the closet, where I keep the books that I don’t use regularly. The plan was to start from left to right and to pull out the books that I can either give away or recycle. Then I would be able to work in small bites.

ALL THOSE BOOKS “SPARK JOY”!

Naomi’s Photos

Each and everyone might be just the book I might need for a certain student, who knows? I have proof, too!  Just a month ago a passage from a book I hadn’t touched for at least 10 years had just the right type of short text with pictures that I needed for a student who had to get an individually tailored task.

I don’t want to part with a copy of the national curriculum from the 1980s, and I certainly don’t want to part with other books from the 1980s that had marvelous stories and passages in them. Every year I plan on creating wonderful activities with selected sections…. (I know, I know. The fact that it hasn’t happened yet is a bad sign).  I have a slew of grammar books for many levels and age groups, with different kinds of explanations.  Surely I need all of that, right? Then there are the “exam books”. The format of the matriculation (“Bagrut”) exams has changed many times yet it seems wise to keep the old books as some of the reading comprehension texts there could be very useful.

Did I mention that there are the new books coming in, and don’t forget the many binders full of worksheets…

And more…

Perhaps I had better wait till June to attempt this formidable task again!

What’s your strategy for dealing with the ELT classroom closet?

 

 

 

Counting Re-Entry of Vocabulary Items – “Thank You, Ma’am”

Plenty to count!
Naomi’s Photos

One of the stories that my Deaf and hard of hearing students like the most is “Thank You, Ma’am” by Langston Hughes.

I’ve just begun teaching it to a new group of 10th graders so I was very motivated to update my materials for this particular story first. As I explained in my previous post, since vocabulary acquisition often requires significantly more explicit instruction with my weaker students, I want to make sure that I highlight vocabulary that appears on the Ministry of Education’s vocabulary list for high – school students (known here as “Band Three).

I was delighted to see that there is no need to update my pre-reading exercise. I designed it to highlight the higher order thinking skill that we teach with this story  -“Uncovering Motives”. Not only have I been happy with the exercise with previous classes, but the word “motive” is also on the word list!

To download the pre-reading activity click on the title below.

Gift-of-time-pre-reading-Mam-p218o7-1e53wc3

Many ways to highlight one thing!
Naomi’s Photos

However, changes were made to the next part. Due to my students’ hearing problems, we can’t discuss the story properly in spoken English in class. Everything must have a written component.  A worksheet of “Open Questions” help me ensure that the students have achieved a basic understanding of the story (analysis and interpretation come later).

Here is the updated worksheet. Click on the title below to download it. The words that appear on the official list are in “bold”. I highlighted them with a colored marker after printing – they didn’t show up as “bold” after the photocopying machine was done with them.

Thank You Ma’am Open Questions-2ktog3e

Smile!
Naomi’s Photos

I’ve created a Quizlet list of the words I’m focusing on at the moment while teaching this particular story.  I may be updating it as I teach.  See link below.

https://quizlet.com/352417392/thank-you-maam-updated-version-flash-cards/

I’ll let you know!

I

Counting Re-Entry of Vocabulary Items – Elementary School vs. High- School

Bottoms Up!
Naomi’s Photos

Incidental learning.

Sigh.

“Incidental learning” as in picking up vocabulary that wasn’t taught explicitly in class. Or an expansion of that – vocabulary items that were introduced in class, being reinforced in an unplanned manner outside the classroom walls.

“Incidental learning” as in the Deaf student who showed me the word “racist” in a comment on a website after the word “racism” was introduced while teaching the poem “As I grew older” by Langston Hughes. (Happy Teacher!) Or the Deaf student who worked on a text related to online shopping which included a reference to “Amazon”. She was sure it was a reference to the Amazon River, which she had learned about in Junior High School. No one in her family had ever ordered anything from Amazon and any casual conversations she might have encountered in the hallway or on the bus mentioning “Amazon” were not heard.

In short, Deaf / hard of hearing students need extra exposure to words in class. Repeated exposure to vocabulary items (mainly in written form!) in context and lots of practice!

With that in mind, I’ve been examining the Ministry of Education’s words list for high school students for ways to count and increase the number of times I use words from the list in context, in writing.

“We’re not kidding!”
Naomi’s Photos

And I have formulated a plan.

Or at least a way to begin.

Refreshing a small unit I prepared from the elementary school vocabulary list (see below the horizontal lines) helped me decide what not to do for the high school students while sticking to a “re-entry plan”.

For the unit for elementary school, I chose a random set of 20 words and word-chunks from the list which I felt I was able to effectively place in a meaningful, visual context (I used two words not from the list as well). Then I created a visual lead-in activity (slideshow), a short film without dialogue that ties the items together, then the same film again with questions using the vocabulary items, ending with a Quizlet word set to practice with.

For the high school students, there is no need to choose a random set of words to begin with or to create the context. I already have a context that I spend a great deal of time teaching anyway – the pieces in the literature program.

Not only do I know exactly which pieces I will be teaching over the next three years, I also have no particular interest in creating activities that don’t tie in with the literature program and could take up time that I don’t have.

“Bear with me, okay?”
Naomi’s Photos

There are some vocabulary items on the list, such as the word “poverty”, that stand out.  These are words which I will put under the category of  Across The Board – words I can use in many (or even most!) of the poems and stories I teach.  Roger and Mrs. Jones from “Thank You, Ma’am”, are poor, as are characters in “The Treasure of Lemon Brown” and  “A Summer’s Reading”. The concept of poverty can also be related to poems such as  “As I grew older” and “Count That Day Lost”.  I’m keeping a special eye out for those words at the moment. I haven’t thought of a good title for the words that are relevant to only one piece yet…

So, what’s my first step?

I’m about to begin teaching the stories “Thank You Ma’am” by Langston Hughes and “A Summer’s Reading” by Bernard Malamud. I’ve started off by comparing the word list to the former story. Here are the  “Across The Board” words that I have identified as relevant to this story:

poverty / trust* /  to struggle* / to escape / an offence / an entrance / an exit / a promise / literature / racism / to steal / tone / setting / share / witness / to survive /  theme / to threaten / in return for / the main thing / to blame / to bear in mind /  youth / get away with / it resulted in

  • Only  “trust” and “to struggle” (out of the above list) are in the text of the story itself, though the word “escape” does come up frequently when discussing phrases such as “make a dash for it” that appear in the story. “Escape” is, naturally, also a very useful word when teaching a Summer’s Reading, but I’ll get to that story in another post.
  • Madam / God / Kitchen – these words are both in the text and on the list, but are “story specific”.

The next step is to go over the questions, activities, and exercises I have for this story. I have begun checking which questions I would like to rephrase or change so as to ensure that the items from the above list will be used.

FOLLOW THIS SPACE!



The Egghunt

1) Here’s the list of vocabulary items FOR THE TEACHER:

Egg buy Take care! hungry
Caveman* Hunt * Be careful! long
Spear* fall That’s not fair! angry
film smile How many sad
food watch sure
another break true
see

 

2. Here is the lead-in activity for the students. It must be done BEFORE watching the film.

 

3) The animated film (no dialogue, remember?)

4) Questions related to the film embedded in the film, courtesy of Edpuzzle.

5) A set of the vocabulary items on Quizlet.com

http://quizlet.com/44000574/egghunt-vocabulary-flash-cards/

 

Drama, Simple Vocabulary Games & Poetry – A Mix that ROCKS!

Let your imagination run loose!  Naomi’s Photos

 

Sometimes quickly turning inspiration into action, while keeping things really simple, is absolutely the way to go.

This is the first year that I am teaching the poem “As I Grow Older” by Langston Hughes to high school students at several levels, not just to the students at the highest level. I am very pleased by the decision.

The lead-in activity focusing on the metaphor of the wall (and not on giving a historical background) clarified it well for my students. You can find the activity here:  Shifting the Focus of Pre-Reading Tasks

However, my weaker students needed more practice in remembering the vocabulary items used in the poem so that we could focus on analysis and interpretation.

It occurred to me that this was a good time to start trying to put some principles into practice. I’m fortunate to be taking an in-service training course with the fascinating Debbie Ben Tura on the use of drama in EFL lessons (thanks to the awesome Regina Shraybman who brought the course to our school!).

Obviously, I couldn’t read the poem out dramatically in English while groups of students act out the lines they hear. Many of my students this year are quite Deaf and communicate mainly in Sign – Language. However, I did not want to miss out on the connection between acting, movement, and retention.

So here’s what I did.

Quickly.

I took scrap paper and wrote out twelve verses from the poem in large letters. Not beautiful, not laminated, just readable from afar. These pages will be thrown out soon. See here:

Round One

Verses on paper, round one

One student was “the teacher”. Another student was placed in charge of the stopwatch on a cell phone. I explained that each student would mime out each verse on a page, as shown by “the teacher” and the time it took them to do so would be recorded on the board. We agreed that some use of Sign Language would be allowed as long as it was combined with acting dramatically (standing stiffly and just signing was banned).

The students immediately asked for a review of the sentences before we began and I, naturally, was happy to oblige.

The students loved it and were quite creative with ideas. Suddenly a verse like “the wall rose between me and my dream” became a visual creation that the students were physically involved in creating! It was clear that the students were focusing on the verses intently.

The weakest student had the role of playing “teacher” – by the time it was his turn the verses had been acted out five times before with “reminders” in between. He needed some help but felt confident enough to participate.

Round Two

The board – Round Two

The students helped me stick the pages with the verses on the board.

One by one a student came to the board. Each of the other students had to act out two verses (we went around twice) and the student by the board had to point to the sentence being acted out. If they pointed to the wrong sentence I intervened until they found the right one, which of course “cost time”. Again we wrote scores on the board. If someone wanted a review before his /her turn at the whiteboard, the group was able to explain the forgotten items. I didn’t have to do it!

The big pages are now going into the trash bin. I had students copy the verses onto index cards which I plan to use in other ways next week.

Drama, poetry, and vocabulary can be so much fun!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breaking News! Unknown Link between EdTech & Crushed Garlic Now Confirmed!

 

There’s a way in!
Naomi’s Photos

Recent research at the Puffin Institute of Classroom Experience has illuminated the striking connection between using educational technology in the classroom and crushing garlic, particularly crushing garlic with a fork. Due to the fact that many teachers moonlight as family cooks, the following information may be of particular interest.

Here are the main findings of the research:

A divisive flavor!

Either you hate it or you love it…  Feelings run strong!

There is no denying that generous use of garlic has a strong presence in a dish – whether it enhances it or makes you push the dish away is the debatable part. Obviously, use of EdTech in the classroom, whether it is via computers, cell phones or tablets can’t be missed either. The question is whether eyes are rolled at the thought of introducing it into the classroom while tongues are clucked in disapproval at the “waste of time”, or is the technology embraced as means to interactive learning?

It can be sorely tempting to use the frozen version!

“Finely dice the garlic!” “Only add the diced garlic when the onion has become translucent, otherwise the garlic will become bitter!” “it’s better to crush the four cloves of garlic!”

While there is no doubt that FRESH is best, frozen garlic cubes, (which only need to be tossed into the pot) can seem quite tempting indeed!

“Fresh” in EdTech means using technological tools that allow teachers to pour in content tailored to their own students’ needs, such as choosing the vocabulary or creating the questions. Remember the old adage “A stitch in time saves nine?” Well, one link (to a ready-made activity) may save time, say nine glorious minutes, or cost nineteen minutes in explaining what goblins are or “zero conditionals”, or get you mired in trying to explain why what happened to a mythical John in Ibiza might be a secret…

Everything under control…
Naomi’s Photos

There are Time-Saving Tricks – Sigh…

Try peeling the cloves of garlic, leave them whole and toss them into the pot with the onion. Now all you have to do is fish them out and smash them with a fork before adding all the other ingredients to the pot.  No dicing or special garlic-crushers needed – all time issues resolved, right?

Well…

It really is a time-saving tip, as long as you don’t dice the cloves out of habit before you remember not to. In addition, if you fish the cloves out of the pot too early they tend to fly off the chopping board when you try to crush them with a fork…

Thankfully computers don’t usually “fly” in the classroom. However, colleagues and counselors, so eager to impart time-saving tips which prove that using EdTech won’t take the teacher more time, sometimes forget that it takes time to learn how to save time. Time, practice and patience are called for…

Reducing Blood pressure \ Improving Brain Functions 

In these matters, Edtech and garlic only have a partial match. While it is clear that learning to use new educational tools (or learning anything for that matter), certainly improves brain functions, the issue of reducing blood pressure could not be established. There are schools in which using EdTech entails running after the person in charge of the computer room or dealing with old equipment that can crash…

“So, what now?”
Naomi’s Photos

Acquired Tastes!

There is hope!

The Puffin Institute of Classroom Experience has been collecting accumulating evidence proving that there are garlic-haters who have learned to like garlic in their food and teachers who have learned to overcome their distrust of EdTech.

Patience is the key!

When a Proctor’s Smile Becomes a Tricky thing – Deaf Students taking an EFL Exam

Naomi’s Photos

The scene is familiar, students seated in rows, one to a table, with an exam paper in front of each of them. Their school bags are lined up against the wall and there’s a dictionary on each desk.  All the students are focused on their exam papers.

However, the room is quite small. There are only nine students. There were supposed to be ten students but one of them, today of all days, missed his pick-up time for the transportation to school and is absent (hmm, I think to myself).

I ponder the advantages of being Deaf during an exam. The room assigned to us overlooks a parking lot of a neighboring municipal building. I seem to be the only one bothered by the noise of the vehicles, and the people talking too loudly on their cell phone. A student in the back taps his foot nervously and no one is perturbed by the repetitive tap tapping.  I’m relieved that there are no real hard of hearing students in this particular class – that kind of noise drives them bonkers (the students who hear better have turned off their hearing aids, I tap them on the shoulder if I need to tell them something).  That is until the nervous student starts knocking his pen against the desk. The student sitting in front of him immediately picks up her head, puzzled. She doesn’t know what she is hearing and which direction it is coming from. I explain and ask the other student to stop. He hadn’t noticed he was making a sound. Everyone else is working quietly.

Being judgmental…
Epstein Family Photos

Then it happens.

The same nervous student in the back gets up for a moment to stretch (the chairs never seem to be comfortable for these really tall boys!) and makes a funny face. I smile at him with a sort of silent laugh and motion to him to sit back down. Another student is instantly alert. What did he miss? What went on here? Why was I smiling? Did I say something when I was moving my hands?

You can’t say “It was nothing, keep working”. Deaf students are very sensitive about feeling left out of things. They have to deal with that feeling a lot in the world outside the classroom.  So there I am, explaining in Israeli Sign Language, about me smiling because of the student who made a funny face and that they both should get back to work when other students pick up their heads. They picked up on the sign language and needed to know what was going on.

In short, I ended up with a “commercial break” in which everyone got the update regarding the funny face made, that nothing more than that went on, no one missed anything and would they please go back to work.

And they did.

I’m still glad I smiled.  Even though it caused some trouble.

Smiles are worth it.

*** Note:  I enjoy following Jamie Keddie’s postings as he inspires teachers to take their own stories and use them with students and with other teachers.  This week his bi-weekly post happens to tie in with mine, as it is about communication or rather miscommunication!

“There is a  Scarface in the bath” by Jamie Keddie 

 

 

Should “Dated” Worksheets Be Tossed Out?

The school year may be a new one, but the question is a recurring one:

Should “dated” worksheets be tossed out?

Naomi’s Photos

Imagine giving your adolescent students a delightful questionnaire dealing with the question: “How Romantic are You”? My students really like that sort of thing and I have been using such questionnaires for years. **

Now imagine that one of the questions asks the students to consider what they would do if their love interest was late for a date. One of the possible answers is a suggestion to look for a pay-phone and place a call.

Most of my students can’t even recall ever seeing a pay-phone. There are very few left on our streets, as far as I can tell…

Then there are personalized grammar worksheets. My colleagues and I, over the course of many years, have created quite a few grammar practice worksheets designed either to sneak in some general knowledge or to personalize the material by mentioning famous people who the students are interested in. Personalizing the material is supposed to be a good thing, right?

However…

Will Smith no longer seems to be “the most popular actor in Hollywood”,  and none of my Deaf and hard of hearing students seem to have heard of Angelina Jolie or the movie “Avatar”.   A reference to President Clinton (Clinton as in Bill Clinton) could be seen as a mistake made by “an ignorant” teacher who apparently doesn’t know who won the last presidential election in the United States…

Naomi’s Photos

So what am I going to do?

Truly successful worksheets, like “the romance quiz”, stay in my repertoire, dated or not. When we get to the “pay-phone” part I simply ask them to imagine how long they would wait before turning to their phones. Their answer, invariably, is to send a text message the moment they arrive at the meeting point, so I just say that response correlates to the least romantic option.

Let me take a deep breath before talking about the grammar worksheets. I would like to say that I make new versions of all the dated ones so as to keep them relevant, but I don’t. It’s totally unrealistic, the workload as a teacher is heavy enough.  If the worksheet is a good one, in terms of pedagogical grammar, I keep it. So I’ve lost the personalized effect,  I can live with that. It’s just like another page in a grammar book. If the percentage of unfamiliar cultural references becomes an issue and a distraction for the students, I get rid of the worksheet.

What do you do?

** My students’ favorite questionnaire on the topic of  romance came from this site, though many years ago: EFL4u.com

 

In Defense of Using Coloring Pages in the EFL Classroom – A Comment

 

The sky IS there…
Naomi’s Photos

“You can’t color the clouds purple”!

“Why aren’t you being more careful about coloring in the lines”!

I too cringe at hearing such sentences directed at a child.

So, when Lauren Ornstein recommended the post: “Coloring Books and Worksheets: “What’s the value of staying in the lines” by Steve Drummond, I read it with great interest.

Yes, and yes.

But…

I don’t care about children coloring in the lines and I do agree that having children create their own drawings is certainly better for them than being limited by the drawing on a printed page.

But please don’t abolish coloring pages in classes of English as a foreign language! They can be a useful teaching aid!

Work with what you have! Naomi’s Photos

For starters, coloring pages are great for exercises in following instructions. They can be quite creative and hilarious, but such activities can only be used if all the students are holding the same coloring page.  Let’s take, as an example, the activity I call “Can you keep a straight face?” One by one the teacher calls on a student to stand up and give the class an instruction to color in one object/person/element on the page. The instruction should be as wacky as possible (the more unusual and ridiculous the better!) and the student must not smile or laugh when giving the instruction. If he /she does, the instruction must be given again (I teach special education, I don’t have children lose a turn!).  Then the following exchange can take place:

Student:  “Color the cat purple and yellow”.

Teacher: “Which cat? There is a cat on the sofa and another cat on the rug. ”

Student: “Color the cat on the rug purple and yellow”.

Another student in class asks about the color of the eyes in whatever form you imagine your students might be capable of asking.

Teacher (addressing the student speaking): “Please tell the class which color to use for the eyes. Remember, don’t laugh!” Note: It gets harder not to laugh when someone tells you not to laugh!

Student: “One orange eye and one brown eye”.

This activity can have a million variations. Students can write instructions for other students and then check to see if the result matched what they wrote. Students can look for pages matching descriptions they received, etc.

Just follow me!
Naomi’s Photos

You might say that some of these activities would work equally well with drawings that students made on their own.

Not really.

The quality and quantity of how a student colored in the page is totally irrelevant, there just has to be enough color that one can tell what’s what. This way you are leveling the playing field. A child’s artistic ability is totally not a factor and there is no room for being judgemental or competitive on that score. And that matters. A great deal.

I can’t end this post without bringing up the calming aspect of coloring pages. I’m a Special Ed teacher – having a box of interesting coloring pages is a life saver for everyone in the vicinity of a child that needs to calm down and collect himself/herself.  Perhaps just giving a blank page and nice crayons would work for some students, but certainly not for all.

If you invest a bit of effort in the coloring pages you bring in, you sneak in some general knowledge as well. It’s a really good feeling when a child raises his eyes and comments: “So this big clock is in London?”

That’s good too.