“TheArtofEnglish” came about three years ago, when I noticed some of my A2 students drawing out a dialogue we had practised in class. It was one of the funniest cart00n-like set of pictures I’d seen, as they had added extra details to the story to make it more familiar to their own reality.
Being a huge fan of crafts, I suggested creating a workgroup in which they could express themselves creatively while using English to communicate; a suggestion met with more enthusiasm than I could ever hope for! It would be fair to say they went mad for the idea and started promoting it to everyone – in the end, 15 students at different levels, ranging from A2 through B1, decided that such a workgroup would be brilliant and wanted to begin straight away.
We had some difficulties at first, but about a month in the course A2 students became more confident in using English with higher level schoolmates and always helped each other understand what the conversation was about and what they had to do. The group chose to work on subjects connected to the students’ relevant courses; an interesting dialogue or story would jump from the classroom onto drawing paper and a game we’d played in class would become an actual board game.
They worked together perfectly; higher level students asked around for suggestions or came up with new ideas if there weren’t any from their younger schoolmates and then planned the course of action – they set a time schedule and deadlines, they divided the worgroup in smaller teams, who were each responsible for a different task, arranged meetings in times convenient for all members so as to monitor and review progress and then proudly presented the results in classs.
It’s obvious that there wasn’t – and isn’t – much teacher involvement – the only “rule” I set was that all communication had to be in English. The most important factors that led to this decision were that students rarely get the chance to practise what they learn outside the language school and my belief that teaching is actually learning. When a B1 student corrects the grammar use of an A2 one, it’s a memorable experience for both.
There was of course a lot of background work in this group for the teachers. With a colleague, we monitored what went on during their meetings, helped out with vocabulary if necessary (although we’d noticed that group members were quite as pleased to use dictionaries as asking us for an expression) and kept records of what had been done and how during a project – all of which went into our progress reports.
Creating and sustaining such a workgroup was certainly no easy task; its progress depended a lot on student engagement and there have been times when no meetings were held and no creative projects were started, but never for a long period – perhaps a short interval was actually necessary in order to recharge batteries and renew interest.
Today, even though I have transfered to a new language school, the “ArtofEnglish” has followed me and is again received with interest and a strong sense of commitment by my new students – the series of posts tagged “ArtofEnglish” is dedicated to all my students (old and new) involved in the group, to show and promote their wonderful work!