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Drama is tiptoing into my classroom!

I’ve been away for so long! Sorry, but I’ve been very busy with some personal issues and now, trying to come back to the blogosphere! As I’ve told you in my previous post , this year, I’m also devoting some time to literature in my classes. I have even started a project: “Myths, Legends and Folktales from Around the World”, which is going great.

In that project, as you can imagine, we are reading stories from different parts of the world. When the time came for England, what legend do you imagine I’ve shared with them? Yeah, :

King Arthur's Legend of course!

I always try to present the stories in different ways. And by this time of the year, I was already running out of ideas. At that moment, I remembered something I hadn’t tried much in my classes, but I love: DRAMA! This story was perfect for it, because it is full of actions. There was the answer then. Answer and movement were the keys.

I wrote the story in a simplified way and divided my students in 4 groups. You can read my simplified  story version here. I gave each group one part of the story and asked them to perform it to the rest of class. They would just have to concentrate on the actions, as I was going to read the story while they perform. It was a wonderful experience, as students really had to work hard on understanding the story. Furthermore, by moving and doing the actions they internalised lots of verbs and vocabulary. It became memorable to them.

When we finished the activity, they were so excited and eager to keep on working with the story, that I’m planning to ask them to write short dialogues in order to write a mini-play. I’ll soon share with you their productions. What do you think? Are they going to be interested in it? Do you have any other ideas or suggestions on how I can continue working with this story? Looking forward to your comments. I’ve missed you so much!

Literature in the Classroom: Photostories

You may all know by now that since last year, I’ve been trying to incorporate literature in my classroom. Last year I worked with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (you can see some activities related to it here and here). This year I started a project called “Myths, Legends and Folktales from Around the World”. I have started a wiki for the project here.

In both cases, I thought that a good way of checking understanding and having fun at the same time was by creating photostories. At first, I thought of using voicethread, and I even wrote a tutorial to explain my students how to use it. However, as soon as I started explaining them what we were going to do, one of my students said “Why don’t we just use powerpoint instead?”. He really had a point there. He made me realise that sometimes the simpler, the better. If they already know how to use powerpoint, why not just let them use that programme, and forget about spending a lot of time trying to teach them how to use another application that would serve the same purpose.

Another lesson they taught me on that day, is that whenever we want our students to start doing something totally new for them, we have to allow them some time to toy around, to get acquainted with the idea, to get the point of what they are expected to do. The first time I asked them to create a photostory, they spent ages to create just the first slide. You can imagine I was walking up the walls. However, the next class they all managed to finish the other 5 slides in just one hour. We, teachers, have to relax sometimes, lots of things are going on inside our students minds that we can’t even imagine.

My two experiences with photostories were very rewarding. The students final productions were great. Here you can see the ones about The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and here the ones about an Asian folktale called Who Will Marry Mousie? Hope you like them.

My Attempt at Drama in the Classroom.

Back in Buenos Aires, after a relaxing and exciting month in Bella Colombia. Have just arrived and realised that the blogosphere has been all the rage about using drama in the classroom. I have to admit that I was a bit reluctant and afraid of using it in my own classes. However, after attending @shellterrell’s workshop on the topic, I decided to give it a try.Here then, is my humble contribution to the debate. My first attempt at it.

Drama masks

Last year, with my 5th grade students, we read The Adventures of  Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. We read one chapter per class, and every day we did different activities. You can see one of them related to collaborative drawing in the classroom here.

Another day I decided to give drama a try. The original activity I had planned was a bit dull and simple. Students were supposed to listen to the corresponding book chapter, and after that, create a dialogue about that part of the story and come to the front to perform it. However, the day before, I had attended Shelly’s workshop on drama, and while I was driving to school ( I have to admit that this is the time when I come up with the most brilliant ideas!) I had one of those wonderful light bulb moments… (I know I haven’t invented the wheel, but I managed to make my activity better and much more fun)

A light bulb moment

I’m sure you are all waiting for my revolutionary idea. Pretty simple to tell you the truth. First, I asked my students to brainstorm feelings and moods. I wrote them on the blackboard. They came up with things such as happy, sad, excited, nervous, afraid, and so on and so forth. After that, I read the chapter to them and they had to write a dialogue based on it to perform in front of the class. The difference from the original activity being that they had to choose a feeling and perform it showing that feeling. The other groups had to guess what the feeling was. It was great fun and it brought tons of laughter to the classroom. It was great, because it provided the students who were acting as the audience, with a real purpose for listening to their peers. Not just listening for the sake of listening.

If you are interested in the use of drama in the classroom, Shelly has made a thorough post with lots of resources and ideas here , and @davedodgson has written an inspirational post with plenty of activities to use with YLs here. Thanks to both of them for having motivated me to incorporate drama in my own lessons and for having taught me so many things!

I would love to learn other ways of using drama, so I would appreciate you sharing your own techniques, activities or resources about the topic. Let’s keep on learning collaborately.

More collaborative drawing in the classroom.

There ‘s been a lot of talking about drawing in the classroom lately. @kalinagoenglish and @eherrod have both provided us with ideas on how to remember vocabulary by drawing here and here.  Apart from that, @harrisonmike has shared in his blog a fun activity in which students end up drawing collaborative monsters. Finally, @ddeubel gives us plenty of tips on the topic in his blog.

The activity I want to share with you today is another collaborative drawing. With my 5th grade students we read the adapted version of  The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. In fact, my students didn’t read the story, I read it to them, one chapter per class. I soon realised that some of them were not engaged in the activities we did about the novel, since they found it very difficult to understand, or they had some problems expressing their ideas.

In order to try to reverse this situation, I came up with this activity. Pretty simple, but my students loved it.  I read the chapter assigned to that class in small chunks. When I stopped reading, my students had to draw what they had heard (i.e the part of the story I had read). Once they finished, they had to pass the paper to the person sitting on their right. This was repeated many times till the chapter finished. In the end, we had lots of collective comics drawn by my students. I decided to make them pass the papers round, so that those students who weren’t good at drawing wouldn’t feel embarrased, since different parts of all the  final products had been drawn by different students. Here you can see some of the comics :

I have to admit that I was not a great fan of using drawing and art in the English classroom. However, since I started using it, I have realised that it has a magical effect. Not every student is good at English, not all students are motivated and interested in our classes, and it is generally the case that precisely those students are the ones that get involved the most in drawing activities.

When I did the activity I presented here with my class, my students didn’t want to go to the break as they wanted to continue drawing. One of the girls who finds it really hard to understand the English language, came to me and asked me if we were going to do this activity again, as it was “re divertida”. That really made my day, and determined me to let art occupy a big space in my classroom.

Lesson Plan: Doing Away with Racial Discrimination

As the 21st of March is the international day for the elimination of racial discrimination I have prepared this short lesson plan to discuss the topic with my students. The lesson is based around the poem: “White Comedy” by Benjamin Zephaniah. He is one of my favourite poets. If you don’t know him, here are the words he uses in his official website to introduce himself:

“My full name is Benjamin Obadiah Iqbal Zephaniah which is Christian, Jewish and Muslim. I was born in the district of Handsworth in Birmingham. My poetry is strongly influenced by the music and poetry of Jamaica and I can’t remember a time when I was not creating poetry. This had nothing to do with school where poetry meant very little to me, infact I had finished full time education at the age of 13.”
“I try to write poems that are fun but they should also have a serious message.”

In the class first I ask my students to read the poem “White Comedy” and to tell me what is strange about it (the fact that the authour has changed the word black for white in some lexical items) and then we discuss whether he has done that solely for the sake of humour or not. Here’s the poem (You can download a file of Zephaniah reciting the poet in the British Council page. He’s great, it’s worth listening to him) :

White Comedy

from “Propa Propaganda”

I waz whitemailed
By a white witch,
Wid white magic
An white lies,
Branded by a white sheep
I slaved as a whitesmith
Near a white spot
Where I suffered whitewater fever.
Whitelisted as a whiteleg
I waz in de white book
As a master of white art,
It waz like white death.

People called me white jack
Some hailed me as a white wog,
So I joined de white watch
Trained as a white guard
Lived off the white economy.
Caught and beaten by de whiteshirts
I waz condemned to a white mass,
Don’t worry,
I shall be writing to de Black House.

After that, we discuss the meaning of the words if we turn them into their black counterparts. I usually ask them to match the words with definitions, but if you have advanced courses they may already know the meanings and they can provide the definitions. Gabriella Sellart has done a great job preparing a glossary for this poem in her blog “Glossaries”. You can also make your students pay attention to the meanings of the words white magic and white lies and what is the implication of referring to the White House as the Black House.

I would round off the class by asking the following questions for debate:

  • What do you think the poem says about the connotatins embedded in Western Language and Cultures?
  • Have you ever stopped to think about that?

Hope you find this lesson plan useful and remember if you use it or modify it share your experience with us. Finally, if you have any other ideas to do on this particular day let us know, it’s great to learn from each other.

Further reading: If you really liked Zephaniah and you want more, @harrisonmike has got a wonderful lesson plan on another poem by him: “Talking Turkeys” (great to use during Christmas season)