How do you encourage a really shy class to express themselves? It’s a question I’ve been asking all week. My latest group of single nationality pre-intermediate teenagers are a lovely bunch, but they can be so timid. I haven’t found many activities that truly engage them – my usual repertoire has fallen short and despite their politeness, plus my attempts to try a few different approaches, it’s just not happening. Class discussion is almost non-existent, pair work rarely extends beyond the absolutely necessary, things feel wholly teacher-centred at the moment and I hate that.
Cue Ed Sheeran…
That latest song of his is brilliant. From a teaching perspective there is so much in there. I’d been thinking (out loud) this week about how I can exploit the song lyrics, I wasn’t sure what was best…
- There’s nearly 20 verbs in the song in the present simple, I must be able to do something with that…?
- There’s about 12 body parts mentioned, could be a good vocabulary review
- There’s some great themes – love, ageing, the senses, etc…
- What about idiomatic language – ‘sweep you off your feet’, ‘fall in love’, ‘thinking out loud’?
It just wasn’t coming together. A quick brainstorm with my DOS came up with changing the lyrics into reported speech, certainly a good idea and plausible, but was it too dry for this group? And what would it do to the song? The imagery is so strong, it’s so well written and instantly evocative, surely I couldn’t reduce it to some kind of ‘grammar transformation’ task.
The idea had been staring me in the face all week. These students may be shy to articulate themselves, but give them a pencil and WOW, you should see what they come up with. I only know this because during the boring moments in class this week (which there have been many) I caught them doodling away, covering their exercise books with manga, strange moomin-like characters or that ghost from Spirited Away.
My idea wasn’t ‘get the students to draw’, it was ‘get the students to interpret the song visually’. Ok, ok, it was drawing. After a few preparatory activities (most related in some way to those bullet points above) I gave them each a few lines of the song and some scraps of paper. Their task was simply to draw something which represented their line of the song.
Did they speak much English?
My worry was that this would just be a drawing activity, and it did start that way. However, language started emerging – students were sharing ideas in English rather than their L1 (with some prompting at times). They asked questions to clarify the meaning of some sentences, dictionaries were being utilised, questions regarding how best to draw certain objects came up. It became more of a language classroom than it had been all week, but still, I’d have liked to hear more English being used.
Some of the language on the board at the end of class: soul, evergreen, place (v), sweep you off your feet, plan, mistake, cheeks, honey, baby, ‘love’ (affectionate term), darling
How long did the activity take?
I used the first 45 minutes to introduce the song, ordering tasks, general comprehension, listening for detail, etc. Each pair had 5 drawings to make, and they did this over the next 45 minute period. It’s a long time for a drawing task, but not long if you look at what they produced. I had to edit the video, it took me just under an hour.
Were the students engaged?
Did they benefit from the activity?
They love the end product. Overall, they used more English than I think they realised. Giving them freedom to express themselves without too much pressure might give them more confidence. It helped me learn a bit about their interests and to build rapport as the activity was quite informal. Benefits regarding new language input were minimal, but as a comprehension task it seemed useful.