TEFL TIPS #9 – CLASS THEMES

Class Themes

When you peek inside the classrooms around you, chances are you find a lot of the same, especially in elementary schools—bright colors, number lines, and those same “motivational” banners that lose their appeal by day three. It can be hard to make your classroom stand out and to avoid having your space become completely mundane year to year. One way to spruce things up is to choose a class theme and to change it with either each semester or each new school year.

Adding a theme to a class can really help get students involved in their environment—it gets their imaginations turning and inspires them to create a whole world within the classroom. A theme also gives a sense of belonging and creates the mentality that the class is a team—“We’re all Tigers and Tigers are the best!”.

Of course, try not to get stuck in the rut of animals & fantasy creatures. Get creative and try out different professions (astronauts, sailors), environments (allow the class to create their own city or country), or even authors (Shel Silverstein & Dr. Seuss are always great choices!).

When cleverly executed, a class mascot can also be used to encourage positive behavior: “Ninjas are very quiet!” “Let’s go! Trains are super-speedy!”

You can also use that theme as a jumping-off point for arts & crafts, stories, and activities throughout the year. You can have class projects that revolve around creating a giant image of whatever your theme is (a class train or snake that gets longer with each completed unit; a giraffe or cheetah with increasing spots; a pirate with a growing crew or ninja with increasing shuriken, depending on the age group) as you complete different units or learn new facts.

Lastly, having a changing theme is a great mental break for you as a teacher—it inspires you to get more creative and motivates you to have a fresh outlook for a new class. It can help make the passage of time more visible too, and you realize how many subjects you’ve gone through or how far back a certain class was. When a new topic is one that really excites or motivates you it is bound to have a positive effect on your students as well.

-Ashley

TEFL TIPS #8 – PLAYDOUGH

In order to inspire creative thinking and maintain active engagement in the classroom, teachers need to sustain a dynamic environment. One great way to get kids involved is to involve more tactile activities and there are so many fun ways to include playdough in an ESL classroom! Not just for kids, either—even my adult learners have enjoyed some of the more challenging activities and welcome the break from books & paper. Below are some of my favorite activities:

Younger Learners:

Letters & Numbers: Definitely the most simple activity, having your smallest students practice their letters and numbers in clay is a fun way to help them focus on the shapes while also benefiting their developing motor skills. Offering them free time to create whatever they want afterward is also a great reward and as their skills grow you can challenge them to first spell out what they want to make afterward.

Footprints & Textures: For this activity, you’ll need small toy animals or hard, textured items like brushes, legos, & coins. Spread the playdough out on the table and make impressions while one or all students close their eyes, then have them try to guess what made the marks. This is great with toy dinosaurs or other plastic animals that can make different footprints and gives the opportunity to practice phrases like “I think”, “I see”, and “Is it…?”. Afterward, let the kids experiment with making their own impressions and see what pictures and stories they can create.

Intermediate to Adult:

Storytelling: In this activity, allow the students roughly 5-10 minutes to create anything they want, then have them present it to the class by telling a story about it. For those with lower speaking skills, ask questions (What is it? What is its name? Where does it live? What does it do?). It is a great way to maintain students’ attention as well, as they always seem interested to see what their classmates were able to create.

Pictionary: In this version of the game, a student randomly draws an English word or simple sentence and must create it out of playdough for their classmates to guess. This can be done in teams (with two students sculpting for their teams at the same time and the first team to guess wins the point) or individually (where a point will be awarded to both the guesser and sculptor if someone gets it right). However, this is best done in small classes—in larger classes being able to see what is being made quickly becomes a struggle.

This is just one of many ways to get students away from their books and into a more colorful lesson!

– Ashley