Class objects revisited Pt1: What can you teach with a pencil only?

It goes without saying that technology has given us tremendous freedom to communicate, interact and develop as professionals. We can’t escape it as it dominates every aspect of our teaching life; our classes have state-of-the-art equipment such as laptops and interactive whiteboards, there are amazing web tools available, not to mention the countless sites offering online exercises and games. However, I sometimes wonder “How would I teach if I only had access to the very basics? Would I be as creative as I am now?” In other words, I often think if there is a way to “reinvent” the simple, everyday objects each one of us has on their desk/handbags and spark our students’ creativity without resorting to technology.
   So, I’ve decided to start a series of ideas on how to see class objects from a different angle. My goal is to inspire other professionals as well so that we can all come up with alternative classroom activities. 
  The object I’ll start with is the PENCIL. As you will notice, in the activities I’m suggesting below the pencil is seen as a means of teaching grammar, speaking, creative writing etc.! I’d really love to read your comments and any further suggestions you might have!
  1. The life cycle of the pencil: That’s a great way to introduce the present simple passive. Tape a pencil on your board (preferrably, in the middle). Draw arrows all around it leaving some space in between for the different stages of the cycle. Ask your students to tell you what pencils are made from. Go to the first arrow before the pencil and draw some pieces of wood. Then, ask them where wood comes from. Wood comes from trees but trees are cut in order to make pencils. Go to the second arrow before the pencil and draw a tree. Keep asking and drawing until you have a picture of what would look like the life cycle of the pencil.
  2.  Miming game/ Cooking instructions: Use a pencil in order to mime actions like writing, cooking, playing the drums etc. (Present Continuous practice). If you want to practise Present Simple, ask your students to imagine your pencil is a large spoon which they will use to “cook”. Give your class a recipe and ask each student to come up and act out a part of it using their pencil aka spoon.
  3. Break it! For me, it’s one of the simplest yet best ways to show your class how Present Perfect Simple is used for actions that have just happened or actions that happened in the past but their result is still visible in the present.
  4. Make it the star of a story! Tape it on the board and draw a speech bubble next to it. Ask your students to imagine your pencil can actually speak. What could it say and who would it talk to? 
  5. Where am I? – Past tenses: Draw a question mark on the top of the board. Tape a pencil pointing downwards in the middle of your board and draw 3 small circles. One on its left and right and a wider one below its tip. Now you have a pencil looking surprised:) Point at your lesson’s date (eg. 09/01/14)  and tell your class that this pencil lost its way and found itself in your class today. Ask them to imagine where it was and what it was doing/had done when/before it got lost.
  6. Pencil puppets – Pencils can be used as puppets in different role plays. You could give them names according to their colour (eg. Mr Red) or ask your students to glue pieces of paper on them and decorate them any way they want to. Apart from role playing though, pencil puppets are also a nice way to introduce descriptions.

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4 Comments

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  1. An interesting post, Maria. I love using ordinary classroom objects in the lessons. I used pencils and crayons a lot with my lower level young learners to teach them numbers, colours and simple questions.

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  2. Thanks a lot Hana! Young learners' curiosity about the world around them is my number one inspiration so I'd love to hear more about the activities you've used with them or any other pencil-based activities that you've thought of using in class.

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  3. I don't know how well this would work with a pencil but with many ordinary objects, have students play alien archaeologist. They imagine that they are from another planet and they have to guess what this thing is without knowing. They might imagine a pencil is a kind of weapon or beauty treatment or spinning toy….

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  4. WOW! That's a marvellous idea! It could also be a back scratcher (I know my students use it a lot as such!) Thank you so much!

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