Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Inspired by my PLN, No. 1 - Mike Harrison’s Mixed-up Monsters

As many of you out there will agree, teacher’s individual blogs are a great source of inspiration. I’ve gained many ideas from them over the last several months, whether in the form of lesson ideas, ways of dealing with difficult situations or general ideas about education and language teaching. I’ve decided to start a new series of blog posts in which I detail my experiences of trying out what I have read elsewhere.

Big Eyes Alien from Bigeyes Land!First up is an idea I got from Mike Harrison’s blog for a collaborative drawing activity my classes dubbed ‘Mixed-up Monsters’ (you can see some of my favourite examples throughout this post). It’s a fun idea for a simple lesson: you give each student a piece of paper and ask them to fold it into 4. They then draw a head, fold it over and pass it on to the next student who draws the body and so on until the picture is complete. They then unfold their paper to reveal the final ‘creation’ (see Mike’s blog post for more detailed instructions).


As we had recently done a unit on the body and describing animals, I thought this would be an ideal opportunity to recycle that language with the added creativity of the drawing activity. I decided to do this in my split classes, meaning smaller groups and also meaning I did the lesson 10 times over! Most of the time it went really well but in a couple of classes, it didn’t go according to plan so I’m going to insert a brief aside here as part of my own recent blog challenge:

When the wheels fell off

mixedupmonster3With one particular group, there were problems getting the idea across that this was a collaborative effort. Some kids got upset because they felt ‘their’ picture was being ruined by somebody else’s crazy or poor drawing. This was especially the case with mixed groups of boys and girls as the boys spent ages drawing monster or robot heads and were then horrified as the girl next to them started to draw a pink dress or jewellery. It happened the other way as well with girls complaining that their beautiful princess head had now got a scaly body covered in spikes attached to it. Some even took it so far as to grab their paper back and erase the other person’s part of the drawing. Part of the problem here was that I’d set them up in groups of 4 with the paper passed around in a circle. In subsequent lessons, I switched to a ‘production line’ with the paper passed further and further away from the person who drew the head and that seemed to work much better.

When it went well

mixedupmonster6One advantage of doing a similar lesson several times over is the chance to address the issues and try it again. As I said above, I changed the way I set the activity up to solve the collaboration problem. I also made my instructions clearer, telling the class from the start that we would draw a series of pictures together and the whole point was to end up with something unusual or crazy. I also joined in, which they seemed to respond well to.

In the majority of the classes, the kids really got into the idea and had a lot of fun. I had to allow a couple of minutes for them to run around showing the finished pictures to each other once the drawing stage mixedupmonster4was complete as most of them got a little over-excited. However, once they had calmed down, we were able to move to the language production phase as I asked them to name their monsters, create a profile and write a description. Again, I encouraged collaboration with pairs or small groups taking pictures which they hadn’t drawn on and deciding together what to write. Once this was done, they presented some of the ‘characters’ to each other.

In these classes, I was really impressed that such a simple activity had got them working together so well. It was also great to see some of the quieter kids much more involved in the lesson than normal as they all had ideas for what the monster should be like.

mixedupmonster5At the insistence of a couple of classes, the final products went on display in a ‘Monster Mash Gallery’ in the corridor (over 100 monsters on the wall!) and the kids really enjoyed seeing what the other classes had done. I even had picked a couple off the wall and take them into different classes for a reading activity. This is definitely a lesson I’ll be doing again in the future.

Thanks Mike!


  1. Excellent! Your classes monsters are all fab, Dave.

    Very happy that my post inspired such creativity. I need to have a go at the activity again and get a bit more language out of it. Perhaps with a class I'm doing business English with I might get them to try and sell them as paintings or market them as action figures... but then that class is almost entire 19-22, female and European, so maybe not. I'll definitely give it a go again. And I'll have a go at your 'when it all goes pear shaped' challenge fairly soon!

    Mike =)

  2. Very cool monsters! And I like the fact that through repetition you refined the procedure from lessons learnt with earlier groups.

    I have to admit that I'm not convinced that drawing is something suitable for the EAP environment I teach in, nor that I personally feel comfortable with incorporating it into this context. I don't know, maybe I need to give adpatation some thought.

  3. Hi Mike,

    Thanks agin for this idea. I like the 'action figures' marketing angle. Perhaps for your predominantly female class, you could have them sketch 'mixed-up models' and give it a fashion promotion angle. ;)

    Looking forward to your 'pear-shaped' post!

    Hi Tyson,

    I'm convinced almost any idea can be adpated. Any biology students amongst your EAP class? Or student vets? ;)


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