Arts and crafts projects are a great fit in the ESL classroom. These types of activities cater to artistically-talented children, provide students with some time to work quietly, and give them the possibility to produce something they can proudly take home.
Crafts are great ways for them to show off what they’ve learned! However, as language learning is our primary concern, we need to make sure we take advantage of crafts time to teach a relevant language point.
When choosing the craft activity:
Choose a craft for its potential for language teaching (how much language you will be able to teach with this particular activity) rather than its artistic appeal. In other words, it is important to consider first what you want to teach, and only then find a craft that will help you meet your language goals.
Consider that your best choice may be something less “artistic” or which involves less sophisticated tools, like a simple painting with watercolors or a drawing activity like a cartoon. Sometimes we are fascinated by the wide range of materials we can use, and we forget what it is we want to teach. Remember that we are ESL teachers, not art teachers. Don’t let yourself be swayed by a “cool” art project.
Don’t be afraid to adapt a craft project to suit your language teaching needs. A Springtime Mobile Project may be easily turned into a fall, summer or winter mobile project with the proper adjustments in the vocabulary list.
How To Make Your Art Project More Language-Oriented
What to add to make an art project more language-oriented:
Vocabulary – Introduce a set of new words they will learn and practice through this exercise. This is a particularly useful strategy when you’re teaching students about a particular holiday like Cinco de Mayo, Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, etc…and you want to do it through a craft project.
Reading – Have students read a short story and ask them a question at the end. Have them supply their answers in a picture, clay model, or collage of magazine cutouts.
Listening/Viewing – same as above, except this time you read the story or play an audio track. Or show your students a video. Ask students to watch to the video for the London 2012 Olympics song, Survival by Muse. Students pay close attention and write down the sports they see. See who can name the most! Students then draw/paint a picture of their favorite Olympic sport. Make it class project! Students work together on a large poster board, each one drawing one sport.
Speaking – Speaking tasks typically involve role plays. Why not ask students to make their props? For a shopping role play, they can model the items that will be on sale out of clay, or draw them or cut them out from magazines. Or say you want to have your students practice making polite requests. Ask them to draw different fruits, vegetables or food items on cardboard and have them paint their foods. When they’re dry, students set a table with their items and ask each other to “Pass the salt, please” or “Could you please pass me an apple?”
Writing – Students create a comic strip, thus combining their drawing with writing. You may also have them illustrate a story, or create a book as a group.
You can introduce language points in three distinct moments: before , during or after the art or craft project. Let’s look at some examples.
Before the art project
Language points that are ideally introduced before the project typically involve new vocabulary. Introduce the new words in groups of four to five, check for comprehension by asking questions or asking students for examples, and finally they will be ready to start their art project. This works great for vocabulary related to holidays or special celebrations. For example, introduce Christmas vocabulary and then have students make tree decorations based on the items they learned.
During the art project
If you make your students chant or sing while they complete their project, they can very easily practice a specific grammar or language point. Also, try teaching them a step by step process as they work on their project. Say you want to teach them verbs like cut, glue, put, stick, etc…you can teach these new verbs as you instruct them step by step.
After the art project
This is very simple and easy to do if you ask them to draw or paint a scene, and then give them instructions to write a story based on their picture. You can specifically instruct them to set the story in the past, present or future.
ESL crafts are tremendous fun for ESL students.
But they are also wonderful language teaching tools. Don’t let these opportunities go to waste and give your students a valuable lesson instead.
If you have any great ideas to add to the list, please share them below!
Claudia has been an ESL teacher for 20 years and has taught a wide variety of students from pre-schoolers to senior citizens, complete beginners to advanced students. This vast teaching experience has helped her write over 100 articles for BusyTeacher.org. When she is not teaching, she is also a freelance travel writer contributing reviews for V!VA Travel Guides' upcoming Uruguay edition, as well as travel articles and blog posts for a variety of online publications. She is currently living in Buenos Aires, Argentina with her spunky 7-year old daughter and crabby 10-year old cat, Ulysses. Google +.
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