Tag Archives: imagination

Teaching Blog: How do you Escape from a Desert Island?

Teaching Blog: How do you Escape from a Desert Island?

Last week my students crash-landed in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and swam for their lives from sharks until they reached a desert island. As luck would have it, a (watertight) container washed up on the shore beside them. It contained fifteen useful items from the plane (see picture below):

Teaching Blog: Could You Survive on a Desert Island?

Laminated page with the fifteen items

knife
mirror
mobile phone
tent
rope
newspapers
sun lotion
fishing net
chocolate
axe
magnifying glass
toilet paper
compass
drinking water
map

Each group had to select six items and explain why they had chosen them over the other items. They also had to say what happened to them at the end of their story, i.e. escape, get rescued, make a new life on the island, or…

Well, that was the setup for the lesson! (They didn’t really crash-land in the Pacific Ocean. If they had, I’m sure our lessons would have been cancelled.) This was my take on the classic team-building problem-solving game.

Procedure for a 45 min. class: (14-15 year olds):

  1. I set the scene in as dramatic a way as possible (involving plane noises, explosions, and swooping hand gestures), then outlined the task, as above.
  2. I gave each group a laminated page with the items on (see above). We checked they knew what they all were and the name of each item.
  3. I explained that there were no right or wrong answers, but they had to justify their choices. I stressed: ‘It’s YOUR story. The island and what happens is up to you. Use your imaginations.’
  4. I explained that their basic aims were: FIRST – escape from the island; SECOND – survive.
  5. SS (students) were allowed to use dictionaries and phone translators, as usual.
  6. After the register and setup (10 mins), and preparation time (15 mins), it was time for the presentations (20 mins). Each group went to the front and presented their choices and their story. I asked questions, e.g. ‘Why this?’ / ‘Why not that?’ and so on. I asked SS about unusual items they had chosen, e.g. the mobile phone or the chocolate, which were both not popular choices. I also asked about life on the island: ‘Have you met any other people on the Island? Can you describe what you can see? How do you feel? What happens…?’ and so on.

Various attempts at putting a brief version of the instructions on the board:

Teaching Blog: Could You Survive on a Desert Island?

Board instructions 1

Teaching Blog: Could You Survive on a Desert Island?

Board instructions 2

Teaching Blog: Could You Survive on a Desert Island?

Board instructions 3

Extension ideas:

  • SS could add drawings and sound effects, if there is time.
  • Role play key moments in the story.
  • Make and edit a film with phone video recorders.
  • Create a competitive version where you assign a value to each item – from low to high – and SS get points for their choices. The ones with the most points win. This would need a rejig of items to make it more difficult – more useful items and fewer low-value items.

There is lots of scope for using creative skills. The lesson could easily have lasted 90 minutes.

Homework:

  • SS write up a diary with x entries, e.g. Day 1, Day 2, Day 8, and Day X (the day their story comes to a head).

What worked?

  • It was another topic that engaged the SS from the outset, and a fairly simple activity compared with previous presentation tasks. The lesson plan worked like a charm and the planning and preparation time that I put in at the weekend paid off big-time. The lesson time flew by but it was really important to keep strict timing so that we could hear everybody’s presentation. On a couple of occasions we ran out of time and I had to hear the last presentation during the break-time.
  • It was a manageable task with an interesting theme that allowed for SS’s use of imagination, for example, one group imagined ‘cannibals’, another an island full of women, while one student wanted to cut the twelve plastic bottles in half and hang them upside down to (somehow) collect the moisture from the air.
  • It was a nice easy class for me to manage. I did the introduction, then SS worked in pairs or threes and I could monitor casually; then we had the presentations; then the lesson was over.
  • I could use the Q&A element as a filler by asking more questions, or ask fewer questions, depending on how the time was going. So, if there were still ten minutes of lesson to go but only two more presentations, I would ask both groups more questions to fill the time.
  • We had fun with the Polish word for axe, which is siekiera, and pronounced almost the same as the name of the popular singer Shakira.
  • It was interesting to see what each group had chosen, and what they valued. I was surprised that the water was so popular, because it could only be used once. There were only six litres, so a three-strong team would only get two litres each. Still, many groups valued it above items such as the tent, and thought they would get some use out of the plastic bottles too (as above), e.g. as containers; for catching fish/insects; for making a raft with floats, and so on.
  • We had a few discussions about boiling seawater. I didn’t think it was possible and it forced me to look it up online and discover that it would be possible to distil it by boiling it and collecting the condensation. However, I don’t think the SS had the right tools to be able to do this – pans, glasses, cups, and so on. Still, it was a moot point!
  • For those who tried to escape by raft or boat I challenged them – do you think you would get far by raft or boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? It would depend on the location. As I had said, it was their story, so some SS managed it because they imagined their island to be fairly close to Hawaii. I thought their best chance of escape would have been to use the mirror and signal for help; there were bound to be helicopters and planes out searching for survivors. Some SS groups preferred to stay on the island and many thought death would be their outcome: ‘We all died’ came the fairly defeatist statement from some groups. Of all the possible outcomes… However, a few SS realised that if they died on the island, or were eaten by sharks, they wouldn’t have to invent much of a story. One group of three guys began their story: ‘We found a knife and killed Kacper for meat, because we were tired of hearing about Martyna [his ex-girlfriend]! Then we killed each other.’ Me: ‘How did you do that?’
  • However, this lesson provided a breakthrough in terms of the problem of getting the SS to speak English during the lessons. As I got used to doing the lesson plan (13 times over the course of one week!) I realised that the longer I sat with the groups while they were preparing, the more they would have to speak English; also, the longer time I allowed for presentations, the longer I could do the Q&A sessions, where again SS had to speak to me in English. As the lessons went on I allowed less time for setup and prep and much longer for the presentations. This really felt like a significant breakthrough, and it is something I will do again in the future.

Challenges

  • If I did this lesson plan again, I would definitely rethink the items. There are too many ‘weak’ items, like the chocolate, the sun lotion, the toilet paper, the newspapers, and the mobile phone, so many groups ended up choosing more or less the same six most useful items, i.e. the knife, axe, net, rope, magnifying glass, and water. There need to be mainly strong items to choose from, so there is more variety and more deliberation/explaining to do. That’s something to improve the activity for next time, but it didn’t spoil the lessons.
  • Early on I realised I had to explain what some of the items were. The mirror was mistaken for a frame a few times, and one group thought the newspapers were towels!
  • In the initial lessons, SS read out short stories, with a list of items usually at the beginning. I decided to ask them questions to try to break up the prepared answers and get some spontaneous answers. This ended up working really well.
  • There is a gap in the narrative / break in the logic, which none of the SS mentioned or seemed bothered about: why, if the washed-up container had fifteen items in it, did they have to choose only six. The task relies on selection, but why only six things from fifteen?! Nobody asked! Why were these fifteen items together in the container anyway? I remembered the mnemonic: KISS (keep it simple, stupid!). But it began to bother me. I didn’t find a suitable narrative. It would have to be that another person – from the plane or from the island – was limiting the number of items to six. Thankfully it didn’t matter! The SS accepted the activity for what it was and ran with it.
  • This lesson was a hard sell at 8am on a Thursday morning! It didn’t help when three students walked in late at intervals as I was trying to go through the setup…

Overall this week’s lessons were really fun. Being able to do this lesson plan with thirteen of my eighteen groups was really rewarding. The lesson plan was solid but it definitely improved as we went along, and can be improved in the future.

As a postscript, during one of the final lessons with this plan I finally realised that the term ‘desert island’ might have given all the groups the wrong impression! In Polish ‘desert’ is pustynia – like the Sahara Desert – while deserted is ‘opustoszały’ (abandoned/desolate). One student asked me in the penultimate lesson – ‘Is the island just desert?’ ‘No,’ I explained. ‘Desert island really means deserted island. The island can be big, with trees and lakes. It’s up to you. It’s about your imagination!’ I could have kicked myself: how I had potentially made it harder and more confusing for them because of the language barrier, and by assuming they know what the cultural concept of a ‘desert island’ is. What I had in my head was apparently completely different to what they might have been imagining. More planning required!

## Please let me know if you try this lesson and how it goes! Click here to contact me. ##

Teaching Blog: Cartoon Stories - Pair Presentations

Teaching Blog: Cartoon Stories – Pair Presentations

Since last Thursday I’ve been teaching cartoon story lessons with my groups. You may want to try this lesson with your classes, so here’s what we did. If you do try it, please do let me know how it goes down!

Procedure:

I asked the SS (students) to work in pairs and take out their notebooks and pens. I drew a three-panel cartoon strip on the whiteboard (as in the image above). I deliberately chose something simple, with some drama (the “shocked” character in the middle) and some action (the character leaving). The SS were intrigued – to varying degrees! I drew the speech bubbles and asked the SS to think of the story and write the dialogue for the four speech bubbles. I encouraged them to consider:

  • the characters
  • their relationship
  • the situation
  • the expressions of the characters and what emotions they signified

After a few lessons I banned the students from using the topic of romance/love/relationships for their dialogues. Some SS asked “Why?” and I said, “Because it’s too easy.” The comic strip is rather leading in that direction. Many SS from the first groups used relationship tropes – as in “I’m leaving you…!” or “I’m pregnant! And it’s yours…!” – so when the SS had to think of something else they had to work harder, e.g. making the relationship between the characters daughter/father, brother/sister, student/teacher, customer/shop assistant, and so on, rather than romantic partners. This worked much better.

SS worked in pairs or, exceptionally, threes. After about ten minutes each pair came to the front to read out – or act out – their dialogues. (This was the presentation part.) Then I introduced the second exercise of the 45-minute lesson: I drew a series of three blank panels on the board and asked the SS to draw their own comic strip, with dialogue, and with a given topic – in the example above, Crime.

The SS had until the end of the lesson to complete this work. I monitored and checked the pairs (and threes) and collected in the work to mark it. The picture below, by Ola and Ania and reproduced here with their kind permission, was one of the best examples of SS’s work, from a class of 15 year-olds. In this case I had given the SS keywords to include in their comic, rather than a topic.

Extension ideas:

  1. Continue the story with further panels…
  2. Write the next part of the story…
  3. Use the same comic strip, but change the dialogue.
  4. Use the same dialogue, but change the pictures.

Observations

What worked?

  • I used this lesson with almost all of my eighteen groups this week, and it evolved over the course of the week. I had started off using an A4 handout with a much longer comic strip, which the SS had to complete and then present to the class. The strip in my picture above was, to begin with, just the warmer. Over time, I realised that 45 minutes wasn’t enough time to do everything and we were getting bogged down in spelling and grammar with the longer comic strip. My job is to get them talking, after all, not writing in class.
  • The concept of the lesson – writing and drawing comic strips – was engaging for most of the SS, even some of those who had been harder to engage in previous lessons, which was a nice surprise. It was a fun lesson with each group.
  • Neither you the teacher nor the SS need to be able to draw well to pull off this lesson. The goal is to get the SS speaking and doing the presentations. The artwork does not have to be pro standard! (See my example with stick people, above.)
  • It was great to do a lesson without any photocopying – once I’d ditched the original idea for the lesson. The lesson was easy to deliver, with no preparation and minimal resources: just a board and pens or chalk. The resulting work was easy to mark and give feedback on.
  • We were also able to explore topics like using humour in the cartoons and using our imaginations.

Challenges:

  • Some of the pairs tried to pass off very short dialogues, along the lines of “Hi!” “What?” “Don’t leave!” “Bye!” I didn’t accept these and asked them to redo it. A few of the pairs didn’t feel like producing anything.
  • Some students complained about their lack of creativity. One very bright fourteen year-old guy, with a good level of English, said: “But I’m not creative! What would you do?” I replied: “I would try my best.” The problem was that he was not prepared to try. In the end, he refused to do the activity, so he ended up with some extra written homework.
  • There’s a danger that this lesson becomes about writing skills and grammar/vocabulary, with dictionaries out in full force, when what I wanted most of all was to hear the SS speak.
  • There are still significant (I think) issues with the SS using L1 during the preparations stages and not listening to each other’s presentations. I got fed up with saying “OK! Listen, please!” before each presentation.
  • Some of the SS’s work was a bit, well, boring. Their story might be: “Let’s go to the shop.” “OK. I need to buy some bread.” At the shop: they buy the bread. Result: “Let’s have a sandwich!” “OK!” I encouraged them to include drama or humour in their stories by inserting a problem into the situation: “Let’s go to the shop.” “OK. I need to buy some bread.” At the shop: “Hey! The shopkeeper has overcharged us!” Or, at the shop: “Oh no! The shopkeeper is a dolphin!” … and so on.
FREE Podcast! Episode 21 - Create a Role Play with Great Sound Effects!

FREE Podcast! Create a Role Play with Great Sound Effects!

I found a super app which you can use with your EFL students!

In this free podcast I talk about an amazing app that students can use to create imaginative role plays with great sound effects! The app is called Quiet Space and is available for iOS here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/quiet-space-best-quiet-space-effect-generator/id1114817125?mt=8

Don’t forget to subscribe and leave a review on iTunes – thanks!