Taking the Chaos out of Drawing Activities

If you’re looking for a class idea that is: A.) Easy to run, B.) Fun for students, C.) Promotes creative thinking, and D.) Reinforces vocabulary and grammar structures, then a group drawing project might be just what you’re looking for. For the most part, this activity simply involves putting students in groups, giving them an idea to draw, then having them present their ideas. And generally just this alone will meet with fairly positive results. However, there are a few things to know and follow that can help make drawing activities a lot more organized and effective. In this article, we’ll take you step-by-step through the process for doing a group drawing project in an in-person classroom.

1. Decide on a Theme

This is the easy part. There are many topics that can be made into a drawing lesson. Superheroes, robots, monsters, fashion, houses, inventions, spaceships … all these and more are good topics that students of all ages will find interesting.

Next, decide what kind of vocabulary and grammar you want to target with the lesson. For example, an activity where students create inventions might target conditionals: “If you press the button, it will do your homework.” Alternatively, you could target ordinal numbers: “First, put your homework into the machine. Second, press the button.” A lesson where students design the perfect pet might focus on words such as “wings,” “tail,” “fur,” etc. Modals (“can,” “could,” etc.) are a good fits for superheroes, animals, and robots.

In many cases, you might have the vocabulary and expressions first (if you’re using a textbook, for example.) This is fine; just try your best to fit the vocabulary into the activity.

2. Prepare Materials.

If you don’t like “crafty” lessons, don’t worry—I don’t either. So if I can do this, you can too. All you’ll need is a few basic drawing supplies, and a few handouts.

If possible, I recommend using some small, personal white boards. If you don’t have these available, I highly advise asking your school to invest in some, as they can be a great material for projects, games, and more. For a typical public school classroom, you’ll probably need no more than 8.

If you’re unable to get white boards, you can try laminating white pieces of paper and, if this isn’t an option, you can use regular paper. Paper can be difficult for a classroom to see, but I’ll show you a trick later that you can use to make it work.

Of course, you’ll also need at least one marker per board, but it’s good to have more in case some of them dry up.

Erasers aren’t necessary, as most students will have tissues or toilet paper. And if they don’t, they’ll figure something out. (They always do!) This is an important note because those boards and markers can be surprisingly difficult to carry, and erasers add one more thing to manage.

Finally, you’ll need some sort of handout or worksheet. Trust me, just having students describe their drawings to the class usually doesn’t meet with great results. I recommend just a simple template with about 5-8 blank lines on which they can write sentences describing their projects by using the key words. For added effect, you can also provide sample sentences, and scaffolded sentences with blanks, in order to focus on specific vocabulary or grammar. This can be provided right on the paper, or you can put it on the board as the students work.

Following is an example I use for a lesson on drawing monsters, with vocabulary selected to help students describe animals in real life.

This is the handout students receive. Note the space at the top for a student’s name and class number. This can be helpful if you plan on collecting the papers, then returning them for a subsequent class (but as we’ll see later, I often don’t do this.) Also, note the “extra” portion at the bottom, which allows groups with more advanced students to exercise some extra creativity. P.S.: no student has ever filled this part out, despite my recommendations.

And this is a sentence template I put on the screen so students can more easily create sentences. Of course, you would want to give them examples for each pattern, such as “It has a tail,” “It has a bat’s wings,” “It is covered with fur,” “It is eyeless,” etc.

3. Teaching

Nice and simple. The students sit in their chairs and listen to you while you tell them what they need to know. Don’t put them in groups, yet, as this will result in students having their backs to you, talking with their friends, and goofing around.

Bonus tip: Students, especially boys, think it’s the height of comedy to draw their classmates’ faces on their projects in some way. While sometimes this is done in good faith, other times it’s used as a means of teasing or bullying, so it can be good to take a moment to tell students that if they do this, or if they draw … ahem … inappropriate material on their pictures, there will be consequences (of which you’ll have to think of on your own. I usually just tell them I won’t show their work, and they will have wasted all that effort).

4. Form groups

There are two methods of this: a simple way and more complicated way. And, as you can guess, the complicated way meets with slightly better results.

For the simple method, just have students form groups by turning their desks towards one another. Generally groups of 5 work well: Smaller groups often result in too many groups to manage, and larger ones result in too little capacity for individual student input. A quick note: often students won’t know that they have to move their desks together, so, if you don’t speak Korean, it can be helpful to tell one group of students: “You five, please stand up. Okay, now move your desks into a table. Okay, that’s your group. Now, everyone else, do this.” And yes, you’ll probably need to do this every time you make groups; for some reason even high school students who can do trigonometry are completely baffled when it comes to forming the same group they did two weeks ago.

Korean co-teachers: if you are doing this activity with a foreign teacher, they will find it very helpful if you guide the students into groups, as this task is surprisingly difficult for those not fluent in Korean.

For the more complicated method, give each student a role. For example, one will be the drawer, one will be the “scribe,” or writer, several can be decision makers, another can be a captain (whose job it is to settle disagreements), and so on. Assigning roles can take a lot of time, but it can give each student a stake and sense of ownership in the group. If you choose this method, consider setting aside a day for making groups and assigning roles, then using the same groups throughout the year.

Whichever method you prefer, start passing out the materials to each group. You might want to have a student help you in order to save time.

5. Group work

Now the students do their work! But your job isn’t done. Make sure you walk around and give suggestions or feedback when necessary.

Also, time management is important. I recommend giving students a time limit, otherwise they’ll deliberate and work until the end of time, or until the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse come to usher in the End of Days, whichever happens first. A helpful way to spur students on is www.onlinestopwatch.com You can set a time limit (about 15 minutes is usually good) and put it on-screen for students to monitor. Alternatively, you can appoint one student as a “time keeper” (and thanks to Betsey for this idea) to give students a bit of ownership and responsibility.

IMPORTANT (kind of): It’s likely you might not have enough time for all students to present in one hour. If you think this is the case, go around to each of the groups with a marker, and write their class number (for example, 2-1) somewhere on their boards. You’ll see why later.

ALSO Important (also kind of): Students of all ages will be tempted to start wandering around the classroom during this time. Don’t let them. I know, kids (and even teenagers) have lots of stored-up energy, but they also need to know there’s a time and place for it, and letting students wander will create a bad atmosphere in your classroom; students will think they have free reign of the place.

Oh, and what about letting students use Korean during group work? That’s really up to you, and it depends on your goals with the project. Personally, I find that my goal is to get students to strengthen creativity and group work skills, then implement the relevant vocabulary, and I don’t think they need to speak English all the time in order to accomplish that.

6. Clean up

Now it’s time to finish. I recommend you allot about 5 minutes for this. Yes, 5 minutes. Tell the students to move their desks back to their original positions. Don’t leave them in their groups if you have further things to say to them; as I said before, they’ll have their backs to you, will keep working, and won’t listen to you.

Also, take their boards and makers, or else the students will continue doodling and won’t pay attention.

7. Presentation

Okay, every team is finished, and now you have all the boards. Now choose a board, have the team come to the front of the room, and have each student read some of the sentences they prepared. Yes, in a perfect world, students would not need to read pre-written sentences, and could instead take turns saying a few things about their designs, but unless you’re teaching adults, or students with a high degree of autonomy, this won’t happen.

8. We’re out of time!

It’s quite likely that you won’t be able to have every team present in one session. Not to worry. Simply take pictures of their boards. Remember in part 5 how I told you to write their class numbers on the board? Well now, because of that, when you have all these images stored in your computer, you can tell which class they belonged to just by looking at the numbers you wrote on the boards. This is also how you can present images drawn on ordinary paper: By taking a photo of it, it can placed on a large screen.

What about those papers they wrote their English on? You could collect them, but I prefer to let the students keep them. In a previous post, I wrote about the value of teaching students accountability for their materials, and this is an instance in which you can help reinforce this skill. If a student loses his or her team’s paper? Well, they’ll have to try their best without it, most likely getting embarrassed in the process. Welcome to the real world, kids, where it’s important to keep track of your documents.

Conclusion

And there you have it. While even some guy off the street can probably teach a drawing lesson (and many years ago I was that guy off the street!) teaching them in a smooth and organized manner is something that takes a bit more practice and experience. Hopefully the information above can make your drawing activities run like a well-oiled machine.

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