Working on picture books

Collaboration in writing

Collaboration in writing

Most teachers tend to think that, writing is better done for  homework individually…I don’t!

When writing is done in class,  as a collaborative activity, it can have many of the same benefits of a group speaking activity:

Discussing the writing process obviously provides more opportunities for learners to interact in English, a benefit in itself.

Collaborative writing can also be a lot of fun! Especially, when it is related to pictures!

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To start with, have students draw their own pictures or bring in photos. Or, you can provide pictures for them from books,  magazines, the internet and other sources.

Jigsaw writing   is a way of structuring collaborative writing, so that the process is clearly defined. This works well with picture stories or cartoon strips. I put students into small groups and read them a book story showing them the pictures at the same time….Then, I hand each group, photocopies of the book story and ask them  to write a paragraph- or simple sentences, for my junior students- describing what is happening or happened in their picture(s).

Putting the pictures in the right order to create their story book

Putting the pictures in the right order to create their story book

Then, I  regroup the students into larger groups so that there is someone in each group who has written about each of the pictures, and ask them to decide on the correct order of the pictures and make any changes necessary to turn their paragraphs- sentences, into a coherent whole. Students can then read and compare the different versions of the story!

An artistic touch...

An artistic touch…

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Each student, makes his book look unique!

Another idea is, to throw all the book  pictures or any other pictures available…. up  in the air(!) , and when all the pictures land on the floor, ask the groups of  students to collect any pictures they like more, decide on the order they wish the pictures to be and finally, collaboratively write sentences for each one of the pictures and make a new story!

Finally, they can be  asked  to share their stories with the other groups of story writers and make comments.

We can use pictures from books

We can use pictures from books

In the next lesson, they can then put the pictures  together to make their own small book. Ask them to colour it, and give it a name, too …. This is a great motivator for the students. They will enjoy reading their books and will be looking  forward to writing more. You could also let them take their books home to share their stories, and new writing skills, with their families.

One of our picture books covers

One of our picture books covers

 

With older students, one really fun  activity is  the following:  give students a short amount of time to draw an abstract picture (this works better if you have some crayons or markers ready to go). Tape all the pictures to the wall. Students then have to write a short paragraph giving the picture a title and describing what they think is happening in the picture. The fun comes after all of the paragraphs have been written. Students then try and link up which paragraph matches which picture. This usually results in a lot of mismatches and quite a bit of laughter. If there’s time left, it can also lead into a good conversation about modern art in general. I usually, ask the groups of students, to take their  pictures back   and write a  ….science fiction story book ,using all of their pictures in any order they prefer and share with the class

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I like having a group of different level students composing a story together. It can be so useful, efficient and rewarding. Useful for everyone: weaker students have their peers helping them in a non threatening environment. They have time, they dare to ask for more explanation, they won’t shy away when something’s not clear. The stronger students can only solidify their knowledge! It’s efficient because instead of one teacher dragging along 15 students, then correcting 15 different stories, what we get is a cluster of groups working on their own and producing one hopefully well-polished writing in the end!

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Younger students, are asked to write only one or two sentences for each picture.

And it’s rewarding – classroom time has been used efficiently and there is an end product everyone has contributed to.

I think collaborative writing using pictures, can be a really good way of getting students to write ‘by stealth’ but you do have to be careful that it doesn’t just end up with the stronger writers doing all the work…

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There are many more  activities that can be used which give children a realistic reason to write. Whatever activity we choose to use should be one that is motivating and that taps into your students’ interests.

P.S. 
I have recently been introduced to Storybird. It looks fantastic, although I haven’t had much chance to explore it yet. It has beautiful artwork that you can use to make stories. If anyone has used it in class I would love to hear of your experience!

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Real FUN games -part a

Teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) to young children can be a stressful, pulsating nightmare of runny noses, drool and hysterical crying (and then there are the kids).

So it’s important to have a repertoire of simple, easy -to-play games up your sleeve for those days when your usual teaching ideas and practices , don’t work.

The games and activities  below are FUN, old time favourites for me!

The fashion show

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To practise the order of adjectives, the students become …models !!

They take turns and walk like fashion models on the catwalk!

The other students use opinion, colour, material etc adjectives, to describe what the model is wearing and make comments on his/her clothes!

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Example: She’s wearing a cute, pink, woollen sweater! It suits her!

He is wearing  smart, dark blue,denim jeans! They match his t-shirt!

Chain drawings

mosaic game draw

 

Each player has a sheet of paper and begins by drawing the head of a person as far as the neck.

All the players, fold the top of the sheet over to hide the head , leaving just the neck showing. They then, passes  his  sheet on to the next person who draws the body including the arms but not the hands!The paper is folded again with just the waist and wrists left  showing and the papers are passed on..This time the player draws the legs down to the knee and the hands. Finally, the player draws the lower legs and feet!

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The papers are passed on for the last time and the players unfold their pictures for everyone to enjoy!

We compare and contrast out pictures, we describe them in detail  and have loads of laugh!

 

 

Story circle

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Each player writes the opening line of a story at the top of his sheet of paper. I give them instructions about what to write each time.

First they have to write ” the name and surname of a man we all know, and some characteristics of him” He  can be a famous athlete an  artist or even a teacher or a classmate!

All the players, fold the top of the sheet over to hide what’s written and pass their sheet on to the next person.

The second sentence is about ” a woman we all know and some characteristics of her”

They fold again and pass it on.

The third sentence is about ” where they first met and how”

The fourth one is  about ”  HIS first words to her ”

The fifth sentence , about” HER  reply or reaction ”

The next one about ” what happened next”

On the last round each player must write a sentence to end the story! The final sentence is about  ” what happened in the end”…was it a happy ending or not?

It’s pure fun when we read our stories aloud!

It’s also a way for me to spot weaknesses in their writing…To  find out what grammatical/vocabulary  mistakes students are making in general! I usually ask them to do this activity during the first week at school, especially with a new class..!

The writing half hour

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Once a month, I introduce a writing half hour when students -6th graders- aren’t allowed to talk and can communicate only in writing!

I explain that:

for the next 30 minutes, students can communicate with everyone in the classroom and communicate about anything but, are not allowed to talk, only write.The things that they write will not be individually corrected!

The purpose of this activity is to give students confidence and practice in writing.

I answer any questions that students may have .

I carry around paper myself and write notes and questions to my students!

It is a good chance to ask individual questions that they might not feel safe talking about at other times!

“Hi, Maria. I noticed that you look a bit tired today.Are you feeling o.k?”

” Paul, you looked confused when we studied the simple past last week. Do you need more help with this?’

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Don’t be surprised if students are a little bewildered at first.

In later weeks, I give them tasks to perform during the half hour.For example, I ask the girls to find out if boys in class enjoy a particular sport/activity   more than them!

At the end of each activity, I collect all the papers and find out what grammatical mistakes students are making in general.But, I make sure I don’t tell an individual student what mistakes he or she has made , as this may inhibit, his desire to communicate.

It can make a welcome break in noisy classes!

To be continued….

Our school english bookcase/library

DSCN0241“The best way to improve your knowledge of a
foreign language is to go and live among its speakers.
The next best way is to read extensively in it”
(Nuttall, 168).

Setting up and running a school library is one of the most satisfying jobs a teacher can perform. As a teacher-librarian
you will be able to develop children’s love of books and encourage them to read. This in turn will improve their literacy
skills, which they will enjoy, remember and share long after their school days are over. You can also show students how
to find out information from the books in the library, and this too is a skill for life. People need information to educate
themselves and develop their true potential, and for this they need literacy skills and access to books. The library
provides access to books; it is a place where information is shared.
Setting up a library is also a great challenge. It can be hard work, so it is recommended that you work closely with
many other people at your school. In this way the library will belong to everyone at the school and can be made to
benefit many generations of students.

Our English bookcase notebook where all the books are listed!

Our English bookcase notebook where all the books are listed!

The biggest change has been in the children’s confidence and willingness to read, which they have carried back into the classroom. During lessons, particularly guided reading, the children who actively borrow from our library, have been more enthusiastic about taking part and, more importantly, their comprehension of what they are reading has improved measurably too. Their growing confidence and increased exposure to language, grammar and punctuation has also lead to a significant improvement in their written work too

Unfortunately, in my school, I found NO english readers or magazines when I started teaching  there! I decided to set up and run an…english…bookcase myself, by donating my own books to the school first and then by asking parents, students, friends, publishing houses and my PLN to offer us as many books as possible!

The list of books, is always somewhere visible in our classroom, for every student willing to borrow a book, to be able to chose the title which interests him/her the most!

The list of books, is always somewhere visible in our classroom, for every student willing to borrow a book, to be able to chose the title which interests him/her the most!

Today, 7 years later,  our small ” library” has about 400 english books and I am really very proud of that! Children are encouraged to borrow books regularly, on a voluntary basis! At the end of each term, the three most frequent readers in each class, are awarded complimentary bookmarks in front of their classmates!

“We learn to read by reading”
(Nuttall 168)

What is important too, is that I place a piece of paper inside each book , for the students to write a  short book review on, and share it  with the rest of the class! Students who bring this review back , are awarded  a sticker for their english stickers collection!

At the end of each term, the three most frequent readers in each class, are awarded complimentary bookmarks in front of their classmates!

At the end of each term, the three most frequent readers in each class, are awarded complimentary bookmarks in front of their classmates!

The readers  who read  the most titles are given a special award,too at the end of each term  . The competition brings challenge to reading and it is associated more with fun than learning and we therefore do not consider it harmful.

I sometimes, hand them a different  handout ,where they are asked to write a different ending to the book story and maybe draw a picture which has to do with it!

The most basic activity is the  book report, in which students are asked about their
personal experiences of what they read e.g. whether they found the material enjoyable or
interesting and why, whether they liked some characters from the book or what did
reading make them think of. They can also be asked whether the reading was easy or
difficult for them.

Most teachers who are asked to set up and run a library are not trained librarians – and neither am I…

Our small " library", has about 400 english books and I am really very proud of that! Children are encouraged to borrow books regularly, on a voluntary basis..

Our small ” library”, has about 400 english books and I am really very proud of that! Children are encouraged to borrow books regularly, on a voluntary basis..

The steps,one has to follow to set it up in the first place,  are  the ones below!

• select books for the  library
• make a written record of the  school’s books, pamphlets and other library stock such as newspapers, magazines,
audio tapes and videos.

• divide the library stock into subject areas

• choose the best method of letting students borrow library books.

• repair damaged books.

The most basic activity is the book report, in which students are asked about their personal experiences of what they read.

What is important too, is that I place a piece of paper inside each book , for the students to write a short book review on, and share it with the rest of the class! Students who bring this review back , are awarded a sticker for their english stickers collection!

“We want our students to be able to read better: fast and with full
understanding. To do this they need to read more. And there seem to
be two ways of getting them to read more: requiring them to do so
and tempting them to do so”
(Nuttall, 168)

The major problem in order  to get that  started, was…financial!Every school year,  I do everything mentioned below, to be able to finance my library:

I sometimes, hand them a different handout ,where they are asked to write a different ending to the book story and maybe draw a picture which has to do with it!

I sometimes, hand them a different handout ,where they are asked to write a different ending to the book story and maybe draw a picture which has to do with it!

a)I ask my  headmaster to allocate some money for the program. I am  prepared to present budget and the organization of the programme (lending
books, time devoted to ER etc.)
b) I  ask each student to contribute money for one book. This is a good start
but more titles have to be added later therefore, I usually ask my students at the beginning of each year to offer at least one second-hand english book to our library!
c) I  also appeal to local donors (individuals, firms, organizations)
d)I gain money from grants – school bazaars
e)I  contribute books from my personal library or ask my
colleagues to lend books

“Libraries should be the beating heart of the school, not mausoleums for dusty books.”
Stephanie Harvey

Extensive reading (ER) is obviously  crucial  when it comes to EFL but….why don’t teachers use ER more often?

A good question. When I ask such a question to fellow  teachers worldwide, the answers come  down to these:

a) Insufficient time.

b) Too costly.

c) Reading materials not available.

d) ER not linked to the syllabus and the examination.

e) Lack of understanding of ER and its benefits.

f) Downward pressure on teachers to conform to syllabi and textbooks.

g) Resistance from teachers, who find it impossible to stop teaching and to allow learning to take place.

Everything depends on how teachers feel about extensive reading. Unless the teachers are of the view that extensive reading is beneficial in promoting English language development among their students, they are not likely to exert their efforts to make the program a success.

I am not saying here that, ALL my students are eager to read extensively! What I am saying is that, I give them the CHANCE to take up this reading habit! I motivate them, I award them for their efforts, I offer them a free choice of books!

 

School Readers, in essence and origin, are an attempt to make it possible for children to learn something without teachers, or without competent teachers; and they tend to create the conditions they presuppose. Thus, if I were a teacher teaching some subject by means of a School Reader, I should be under a constant temptation to say,‘Get out your reading books’; and the end of it would be that the children would know only the book and not the subject.” Fr. Drinkwater

The biggest change has been in the children's confidence and willingness to read, which they have carried back into the classroom.

The biggest change has been in the children’s confidence and willingness to read, which they have carried back into the classroom.

I am passionate about getting children excited about books when they’re as young as possible, at a time when books and stories seem magical to them and their imaginations are expanding and they are forming language skills. I am staggered when people don’t see how important that is.