Draw something! – ideas about sketching and drawing as springboard for language production

Some time ago I planned a lesson about robots with my upper intermediate/advanced class. We would be covering economic and ethical implications of robotics. To start I wanted to make the class aware of their individual and common concepts of robots. I came up with the following task:

1. Take a piece of paper and draw a robot.

2. In groups of three, talk about your drawings.

3. Make notes about what your robots have in common and about what their differences are

4. Present your findings in class.


The original idea behind this exercise was to make the students aware of their concepts of robots as goofy humanoid characters of Hollywood Sci-Fi films, which I wanted to challenge in the course of the lesson. When I reflected on the exercise later in the day it became clear to me that there were at least to other beneficent dimensions to it:

Firstly, it helped activate a lot of vocab around questions such as “What materials is my robot made of?” or “What are its features?”.

Secondly, it helped the student talk about the subject by giving them something to hold on to and refer to in their conversations.

I used a similar exercise when we were talking about environmental problems. After watching a few minutes of the Al Gore film “An Inconvenient Truth” in which the concept of the greenhouse effect is explained I had the class draw a sketch that would help them memorize how it works. In the following lesson I let them use their sketches to explain the concept to their classmates. In the end a quick sketch helped them understand and memorize and talk about a difficult concept.

There is a ton of ideas to be found about the power of visual prompts in EFL lesson, but usually these prompts come from outside the classroom. Why not let the students produce the visual prompts themselves once in a while? Students don’t have to be artists to use their drawings in class and there is a lot to gain from giving them a little tim to draw:

Creating sketches or drawings helps shape ideas and clarify concepts.

Using the drawings to talk gives certain structure to a talk but also room for creativity / spontaneity

They serve as visualization devices as well as mnemonic devices. It will help my audience understand my talk and help me remember what it was I wanted to get across in the first place.

Drawings should work on a piece of paper for smaller groups. With larger groups you might need a visualizer, or a photo of the drawing displayed on a projector.

You might want to check out The RSA animate videos – the inspiring high water mark of using drawings to support language.

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