Teaching outside the BOX

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I’ve always loved all kinds of boxes! I love using and reusing them and teaching my students about how to do the same, using their imagination and creativity! There are great ways to use cardboard boxes in the ESL classroom and here are just a few, to get the idea.

Why Work With Cardboard?

It is SUPREME.

  1. It is (in most cases) free.
  2. It appeals to the environmentally-conscious, pro-recycling parts of our human nature.
  3. It is disposable – toss it back into the recycling bin when you’re done teaching/playing.

Cardboard Box Houses

 

 

Why not make this easy cardboard house, with your class,too? You can watch online videos ,follow the simple step-by-step instructions and help your students decorate their houses. With the help of some small dolls,furniture or action figures, have them act out scenes from a course book story or a tale you’ve read them, for role plays with a twist! You can even teach Grammar , ie the prepositions of place, by having the students move the pieces of toy furniture around the rooms or teach/revise vocabulary, ie colours, parts of the house etc

Dioramas to Die for!

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Dioramas are perfect for capturing a scene from a story – and cardboard boxes are the ideal material for our class diorama. Simply cut out a rectangle from one of the sides of the box, like a window. Then have your class assist you in recreating a scene from a story or book you’ve read.And don’t forget holiday dioramas: from the first Thanksgiving to a spooky graveyard filled with monsters for Halloween, the possibilities are endless!

Landscapes 

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Want to practice asking for and giving directions? How about using a miniature landscape instead of an old, boring, flat map or picture ? Use small cardboard boxes of different sizes, like small cereal or cookie boxes. Have your students create a landscape out of each.The students can make the landscape as detailed as they want .Use action figures to move around and ask for directions. In this last school year’s photo, my creative students created a four Seasons landscape and used it while reciting a poem they had written, about the four Seasons!

Boxed Words

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Set up a Vocabulary Box ,in a corner of the room! Each time a student asks about a word he or she does not understand, go through the following steps:

Write-or have the students write- the word at the top of an index card, the definition (for your older students) or a drawing ( for your younger learners) below that and finally, an example of the word used in a sentence, if you wish.

Put the card in the Vocabulary Box.

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At the end of the week/month (or school year) depending on the number of words accumulated, you can open the box and see how many of the words they still remember, how many they’ve forgotten or not used at all since that day in class, by playing fun vocabulary  games. The day I took this photo, we played a Treasure Hunt Game, using the words in the box.

Mail Box

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Have each of your students write a letter to a classmate or you,the teacher. I always do so, at the beginning and the end of each school year . They get so excited when they receive their reply letters! Then, you can be the postman/woman and deliver them or have another student act as postman/woman. I also use the mailbox for homework assignments or special occasions such as  Christmas, where students get the chance to write to Santa. Watch this tutorial to make an alternative mailbox to mine, in the photos.

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Dolls, Robots and other crafts

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For a fun class role play activity, first have your students create an action figure or any other craft of their choice, out of a cardboard box .When they’re all done, students take turns acting out different role plays, using them! An the end of each school year, you can organise yearly “Art Exhibitions” with all the students’ crafts! Art exhibitions ,offer students a chance to display their work for parents, siblings and classmates.

 

Puppet Theatre

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A cardboard box can easily be turned into a fun puppet theater, for all our class ELT puppet , finger puppet or even shadow theatre plays.

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Here are the instructions about how to make your own shadow puppet theatre.

Class Theatre Hats 

 

I create class theatre props and crowns/hats from cardboard, throughout the school year. The last time I did so, was for the needs of our end-of-the-school-year adaptation of “Midsummer Night’s Dream” .

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Not only are these hats adorable, but very sturdy. After they are constructed you can let the children decorate them with stickers and/or paint.

Playing with a Dice

 

I love using Dice Games to practice vocabulary, in my class! I made  my first class dice , a couple of years ago and have been using all the activities in this post, since then .

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My students love the Dice Games and ask for them, all the time! 

Mystery box

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This is an awesome guessing activity! The “Mystery Box” is a type of prediction game that you can create with simple items that you have in class.

Find a box, such as a shoe box, or any other kind of container which kids can’t see through, such as a cookie tin. Introduce the empty box or tin and discuss how the mystery box game will be played. Outside of the children’s view, place an item inside the box or tin. Ask the children to predict what is inside. If you want, you can let the children hold the box, to see how heavy it is or if it makes any noise bouncing around the box or tin.

Give the children one clue as to what is inside the box. For instance, if you have a teddy bear inside, you can say, “It’s soft.” After the first clue is given, ask the children to guess what might be inside. Repeat the process by giving a second clue, such as, “It’s brown” and then ask the children to guess again.

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They have to guess, by using different modals such as “it must be..”, ” it can’t be..”, “it may be..” etc

All the students who guess right, are given special stickers! If only one student guesses right , she/he is given the item in the mystery box, to take home , as a present.

After showing the kids how to play the game, I ask the children to bring their own  mystery boxes from home, the next day, with an item inside the box for their classmates  to guess what it is.

Our etwinning “CUbeS

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Last school year, we used boxes in our etwinning European project, with huge success!

What the four partners ( Greece, UK, France and Poland)  decided to do was that, students produced a presentation or “Culture and Smiles in a Box” on their partner country in groups, both in class and on twinspace Forums. To be able to do this, students  gathered information about their own country and life and mailed it to their partner schools, in Cubes-boxes .Their partners, were responsible for producing the presentation on their partner country’s cultural assets on twinspace Forums .

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My students felt able to be creative with their audience in the partner schools in mind and dare to share and compare.They also used their imagination and creativity as well as their artistic skills, in order to fill their CUbeS with content.

The Activity Box -for early finishers

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For my early finishers, especially when writing tests, I use a special box!

A box, filled with activities and items of my choice, such as books, magazines, board games, toys, postcards, etc The box also contains small sets of task cards.

100_1818The box can be placed on an easily accessible shelf in the classroom or on the teacher’s desk.When students’ regular classwork/test  is complete, they can take one item at a time, either to their seat so as not to distract other students who are working, and get a quiet moment to relax. They use the materials in the box to practice their English, too. And instead of being just “busy,” students are engaged in creative, complex tasks.Kinesthetic learners, spatial learners, and logical learners ,all love exploring the different possibilities for the box materials as they try to spend their time ,the fun way!

Even better? The prep and management on the teacher’s part is minimal! 

The story telling box

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Using a magic box when we do story telling with our very young learners, is so much fun! I ,personally, love it!

A good example of how to do so, can be found in this Blog post, written by my friend Margarita Kosior. 

Margarita ,is an amazing educator from Thessaloniki! I truly admire her work with storytelling !

I am so grateful that she accepted my invitation, to share one of her stories, in my Blog, a couple of years ago! Actually, she has been my inspiration to try similar activities with my junior classes and I wholeheartedly thank her, for that!

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The routine, is opening the Magic Box which hides different treasures every time, usually flashcards or realia which appear later in the story.

In case of “Henry Hippo”, she created head bands with the four protagonists in advance and she placed them in the Magic Box. With the use of a magic star and on the sound of the magic words, the Magic Box opens.

Every time the group shout: “Magic Box, open!”, one headband/item is taken out.

 IDENTITY BOX

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I have used the ‘Identity Box’ activity since I was introduced to it, at Pilgrims ,by my amazing “Teaching Difficult Learners” course teacher trainers Mike Shreeve and Phil Dexter , two years ago. It is  a way to introduce my students to each other (and to me!). I assign it as homework, on the first day and give students 2-3 days to complete it. Alternatively, students could do the project in school and bring in old newspapers and magazines ,in order to decorate their boxes. 

Supplies needed:

Scissors

Glue

Pictures (personal, magazine, etc)

Shoe Box (or box of any kind)

On the outside of the box, all students decorate with images of how they feel others see them OR how they see themselves.

On the inside of the box, older students, decorate with images of how they feel on the inside, what best describes their  identity.

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 Sharing the boxes on the last day of the first week of school is a fun way to conclude this exciting week. 

I have also included an optional “All about me on a Box” writing activity extension.

*For those of you interested in reading about the original idea ,which actually doesn’t have anything to do with children, please, have a look here.

CONCLUSION

When it comes to fun ESL activities, why not think outside the box, or rather in this case inside it?

Why not capitalize on our innate fascination with boxes and the opportunities they hold?

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More ,start of the school year, fun!

 

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Building a classroom community is very important and is an indicator of success. Icebreakers and other activities are important to implement during the first days of a new school year. It is important for all students to feel welcome and a part of their small community which actually a part of an even bigger one. Feeling comfortable will help create resilient learners that have confidence in sharing their ideas without fear of being judged.

Sharing some of my favourite activities, here, today…….

The ball game

Have all the kids stand up .  As a group think of 5 questions that they want to find out about each other such as:

What is your name?

When is your birthday?

What is your favorite color?

What is your favorite food?

Name something you are good at?

After you decide on the questions you can start the game.  Give one player the ball.  Have them throw the ball across the circle to another player.  Whoever catches it has to answer one of  the 5 questions- the one the person who has thrown the ball is asking him/her.  When they answer the questions they throw it to another player who then does the same .  To make sure everyone gets a turn make it a rule that you have to throw the ball to someone that didn’t already have a turn.

Variation: I ask them to say a reason they think they are special , each time they catch the ball or share a fact about them nobody in class knows …..

Words about me

I saw this one on Pinterest and thought it would be a great way to revise some vocabulary and boost their self-esteem, at the same time .  The students had to find at least 20 words that describe themselves. They had a great time working on this activity. This was also an encouragement to the students because they realized that they have some great qualities to share with the world.

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With older students, we do ” I am special because..” They have to write as many reasons they can think of , why  they are special!I use the body template below… A great self-esteem booster, too.

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Scavenger Hunt

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Children are given a list of questions about their class and classroom to answer. First most accurate sheet wins. Some examples are: How many children are in this class, how many girls/boys are there, how many dictionaries are in the room,  where are the games kept….This activity helps the children get to know each other and their new classroom.

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Students playing and having fun, while learning new languages!

Students playing and having fun, while learning new languages!

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A ball of yarn

One of my favorite getting-to-know you activity is building a friendship web using a ball of yarn. We all sit in a circle and I start with a ball of yarn ( I say my name and something that makes me special and then throw the yarn to a friend. When my friend catches the yarn, he/she states his/her name and shares a reason he/she is special  and then throws it to another friend. It is a great way for everyone to get to know each other. I tell all the children we are building a friendship class web where we are always here to help each other. They really enjoy this activity and always ask to do it again!

 

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Self portraits

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Have students draw and color self-portraits on the first day of school. These self-portraits make great displays for back-to-school night and perfect keepsakes to pull out at the end of the year.This activity would be further enhanced by having students write an “I Am” poem. Each line of the list poem starts with the phrase, “I am”. You could also add other phrases such as ” I have..”, “I can…”, ” I like…” etc. Students brainstorm descriptive phrases about themselves to write their poems. Younger students could brainstorm a list of descriptors as a group and copy their ideas onto sentence strips to write a class poem

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Shhh Spray

I made up some “Quiet Spray!”  You spray the ROOM to signal children to get quiet.  Or you can just leave the bottle empty.  Mine love the mist in the air.  It is so funny!  {I do not condone spraying a child!  As much as you might want to!  Ha! ;)}

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Brain Sprinkles

1. To playfully encourage anxious kiddos during test time or challenging academic times throughout the year 2. To playfully encourage students to THINK or USE THEIR BRAINS when conflicts, problem-solving situations, anger-inducing situations, or social situations arise

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I took an empty spice container, created a cute label, then filled the container with beads and glitter. I shake the container over their heads, and…boom! They are revitalized. Sometimes I use them on myself. I love to give everyone brain sprinkles right before a test. Some even ask if I can shake a little extra sprinkles for them!

Name chant

This cute chant , is the way for my juniors to get to know each other’s names  , the very first day in our  English class! Sung to the tune of “Frere Jacques”.

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I am done Jar

I created an “I’m Done” jar for my fast finishers and it was seriously amazing! I always had students who finished their “must do’s” quickly. They just got it! When they came up to me and exclaimed, “Teacher! I’m done!” I generally would just tell them to go read a book/magazine . I wanted to figure out *more* ways to challenge and engage my students who finished quickly. So I complied a list of activities  that would be fun and meaningful for my students and stuck them in a jar. It worked wonders!

 

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Bulletin boards

I always create my class bulletin boards, before the school year starts!They help me improve effectiveness and enjoyment of lessons . They make my classroom visually appealing and stimulating to my  students

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 Fill in the funny blanks

Sometimes, I give them a sheet of paper with funny info about me and ask them to work in teams and correct the info which is not right, by guessing! They love this activity! They always guess wrong about my age!!….

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Our mail box

There is a mail box in class, where anybody who wishes to write me a letter can do so, any time they feel like it! The first letter I send them myself,  is at the beginning of each school year, welcoming them to our class  and I always ask them to write back sharing their hopes, fears, expectations, goals, feelings…..

Here are some of their letters , this year!

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Three truths and a lie

I play a game called 3 Truths and 1 Lie and have students tell their three most favourite things  and one  untrue fact. It is up to the class to guess which fact is untrue.

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All about me paper figures 

I provide each student with a small paper cutout in the shape of a human, or have students cut out their own paper figures. I ask each student to write his or her name on the cutout and all about him/her they would like us to know…

These cutouts make a beautiful classroom walls display!

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Posters  entitled ‘About Me’

They have  spaces for a photo of the child, likes and dislikes (foods, movies, books etc), about their family, what they like to do in their spare time,  what makes them special….

It’s a way for me to get to know the children and if the children are new to each other, its great for them to learn more about each other and find a new friend with similar or same interests.It is also a good self esteem booster!

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Cute selfies, on our classroom walls

Using  templates ( there are so many of them on Pinterest, eg https://www.pinterest.com/pin/248401735675011808/ ) , students draw their selfie (self portrait) onto a smart phone template handout. They then select from the variety of text message (writing prompts) and answer questions for back to school, Halloween, New Year’s or end of the year. This year, I have  decided to ask them to choose from alternative back-to-school  text message  topics:

 

  • What I DIDN’T DO this summer
  • A unique person I met this summer
  • My most memorable moment of the summer
  • One thing I learned this summer
  • The person I spent the most time with this summer
  • The best meal I ate this summer
  • Something educational I did this summer
  • Something I bought this summer
  • Something I made this summer

 

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Cute selfies, on our classroom walls!!

Cute selfies, on our classroom walls!!

Our birthday calendar

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When it’s a student’s birthday, I give him/her a special birthday card and they have to wear their birthday hat , during the lesson! In the beginning of each school year, I ask them to use this calendar to mark their birthdays on.

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A class poster

A poster with their class photos, on their first day in class, is always a precious keepsake.

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Me in a Bag

I ask them to bring a bag to school on the first day with things –no more than 3 (objects, pictures, etc.) that tell about them, their family, and things they like. I start by sharing my bag and telling about myself and my family. After seeing what’s in my box and sharing my stories about each objects, students can’t wait to show their objects and talk about themselves. I learn a great deal about each child and their lives. This is also a great speaking activity! Classmates are given an opportunity to ask a question or share a compliment.

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Time capsule

I make a Time Capsule every year with my students, as one of my first activities. It includes their goals for the new school year. One they have each completed one, they fold it up and seal it and it goes in a box that I have labeled Time Capsule. In May,they open the one from September and to much of their surprise many goals are NOT accomplished , over the course of eight months.  This activity is always a winner with my students. I have been doing it for years!

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The first days of school, can be stressful for everyone, but these activities  will help you and your students get to know each other in a fun, interactive way to help build the classroom environment all year long!

What are your favorite first days activities?

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