Here I am, I used to have a home

This post is a report on a recent classroom project we had on refugees with a mixed ability A2 group of twenty-five 12 year old students. The aims were to build thoughtful awareness, encourage empathy on the issue, foster open-mindedness and respect for others, and keep refugees from seeming foreign and distant.

Students observed closely and described, wondered and asked questions, sought answers, responded to a short video, engaged meaningfully with a poem with a focus on capturing “what spoke to them”, recited poetry, made a class recording, and summarised the essence of the topic in verbal and non verbal ways. They also practised refugee related vocabulary, present tense, past continuous, past simple, and used to through reading, writing, listening, watching, speaking, and note taking.

The source material used was:

  • an illustration for World Refugee Day 2011 by Hanane Kai
  • Lior Sperandeo’s video “People of nowhere”
  • the poem “Here I am” by Electra Alexandropoulou

Session 1 – Introducing the topic/Looking 10×2

We first had a look at an illustration for World Refugee Day by Hanane Kai, a graphic designer. I asked students to:

1. Look carefully at the painting for 30”

2. Make a list of up to 10 words or phrases about any aspect of what they saw

We shared ideas. Students stood up and wrote their words or phrases on a piece of construction paper we had stuck on the classroom wall. They also kept notes of all the responses shared.

Then, we repeated steps 1 and 2 adding some more words and phrases.



We used a concept map (circle map) to document our responses. Red marker was used for the words and phrases the students came up with when we repeated steps 1 and 2.





28 001I then wrote on the board: What questions do you want to ask about refugees? We brainstormed some questions and recorded them. Students were assigned to:

a. Write a short paragraph reflecting on the classroom experience: What we did, what we saw, what we talked about.

b. work on the question/s of their choice

Session 2 – Reporting back



During the reporting stage, they presented their answers, answered their classmates’ questions and took notes of the responses shared in class. We kept a visible record of all the answers shared in a diagram.




We then had a look and read the following slide with the definitions of “Refugee”, “Asylum-seeker”, and “Immigrant”.

Students were assigned as homework to write a short text based on the classroom discussion and the notes they kept.


Session 3 – People of nowhere

DSCN2086We worked on Lior Sperandeo’s video “People of nowhere”. First, I played the film, sound only, and asked students to close their eyes and listen to the music.  I then invited them to respond to the question:

What did you “see” in your mind’s eye while listening?

We shared our responses and then listened to the music again. This time I asked them:

How did you feel while listening to the music? 

We shared ideas again.


people of nowhereI then told students that:

a. We were going to watch the video.

b. After watching they would have to write down as many visual details as they could remember.

Ideas shared:

As a homework assignment I asked them to write a a short text, describing the video. I also asked them to reflect on the question: Are your feelings after watching the video the same or different?

Session 4 – Here I am

We worked on the poem “Here I am” by Electra Alexandropoulou. It is a powerful poem, written in the first person where the refugee persona describes his/her current situation and recalls the past. You can find the poem as a scribd document here.

I first drew children’s attention to the geographic glossary I had included at the end of the poem handout. It is not a difficult poem in terms of language, but there is a number of references to places, cities and rivers they were unfamiliar with. We traced them with the help of a world map.

Then, I read the whole poem aloud to the students so that they could get more of a “feel” for the text. This had a powerful effect on them. The class was a so quiet you could hear a pin drop. We then worked on the new vocabulary. Finally, children did some silent reading themselves and took turns reading it aloud in class.

As a homework assignment I asked them to do some more reading of the poem and write sentences about:

the things the refugees used to do in the past

their present situation

Session 5 – The tree of past and present

DSCN2076Feedback was given in the form of a plenary discussion where individual students read their sentences and the rest of the class took notes. We kept a visible record of the sentences shared in class and in the end we added the drawing of the blossomed and dry tree.

I assigned as a homework to:

choose a line/phrase/word from the poem that struck them as powerful and important and explain why.


Session 6- Line-Phrase-Word

Students shared their choices of lines/phrases/words explaining why. We kept the ideas shared visible.

Session 7 – A class recording

In this session we had a final reflection on the poem which had a great impact on the students. The idea of attempting a class recording was discussed in a previous session. We tried it with enthusiasm. You can listen to it here.

The project was coming to an end. I asked them to think of all the ideas shared and imagine they were reporters writing an article about refugees.

What would the headline be?

I also asked them: if you were to offer a drawing to a refugee child what would you draw?

Session 8-Headlines & hopeful drawings

The children responded not only with headlines. A few of them also attempted short articles to go with them. Here are some of their ideas:

And here some of their drawings for refugee children:



The poem “Here I am” is included in the book “The Coldest Summer” issued by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. The book presents the stories of 3 refugees fleeing into Europe, their nightmare, hopes and fears, sketched as a graphic narrative. Here is the link to download the book

The saw-felt activity in session 3 as well as the visual details activity in the same session were adapted from two activities (Memory Game & See-hear-feel) in Kieran Donaghy’s excellent book Film in Action: Teaching language using moving images (Delta Publishing).

Thanks to Torn Halves for bringing to my attention the video “People of nowhere”.

The thinking routines used in this project were: Looking 10×2, Line-phrase-word, and Headlines. You can read more about them here, here, and here.

While setting up this project I came across these interesting links on refugees

Syrian Refugees interactive timeline

Syria: A children’s crisis?

Unit plan for ages 15-18 in Language & Literature: The Depiction of Refugee Experience in Literature



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Wake-up call: the true cost of our electronic gadgets

This post is a report on a series of lessons around the topic of consumerism, electronic gadgets, and their impact on Earth. It was sparked when during a course book unit on shopping I asked students “what do you like shopping?”. There was a surge of answers towards electronic gadgets. This made me think that it would be worthwhile learning about their true cost as informed consumers for a more sustainable future for our planet. I worked with a multilevel sixth grade group (A2+) of twenty-five twelve year old students and we needed five forty-minute sessions.

Session 1

We first brainstormed around the kinds of electronic gadgets we know or like and took notes.


Shop tagx 3


We had a look at this tagxedo, read the words that appear in it, dealt with new vocabulary, and talked about the things we can or can’t buy.







We looked at a slide with the definition of consumer society (adapted from Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary). I wrote on the board:

important, really, society, own, goods



and completed the definition by filling in the missing words.





We finally read this quote by Socrates. I told students that Socrates, looking at a mass of things for sale, often said to himself: ‘How many things I have no need of!” I asked them:

What do you think about this quote?


We shared our thoughts and ideas as a speaking activity. At the end of the first session, as a homework assignment, I asked students  to write a) can-can’t buy statements of their choice

and b) their thoughts about the quote by Socrates quote based on the speaking activity we did in class and their notes.

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Know-ask-explore-learn: Independent inquiry & project work

We read a short text about Ukraine in our coursebooks. There was a reference in the text that aroused children’s interest and curiosity. It read:

A nuclear power plant accident in Chernobyl, in 1986, is still causing serious environmental problems which worry Ukrainian people. Today we don’t have enough drinking water supplies because of that accident.

This is a multilevel (A2+) sixth grade group of twenty-five twelve year old students. They were not even born when the Chernobyl accident happened, yet these two sentences provoked a series of questions on the what, why and how of the event. This interest made me think it would be worthwhile to elaborate a bit more on the accident. I framed it as a small project and drew on the KWL (Know-Want to know-Learned) strategy to set it up.

KWL (Ogle, 1986) is a reading strategy that helps guide students through a text.  Students first brainstorm everything they know about a topic, then they generate a list of questions about what they want to know. After reading, they record what new information they have learned. It serves to activate background knowledge, sets a purpose for reading, and helps students monitor their comprehension. KWL is constructivist in nature. This means it asks learners to get involved in constructing meaning and knowledge.

In our case I modified the strategy to: Know-Ask-Explore-Learn.

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What makes you say that? Reasoning with evidence

We worked on the topic of urbanization with my 6th grade students (12 years old). The idea was to discuss the evolution of cities from antiquity to present time, urban growth around the world and relevant issues, and to deal with aspects of modern city life as they and their families experienced them. On starting the topic I presented them with two paintings by Cyril E. Power and LS Lowry, 20th century English artists of the emerging modern city.

First, I showed them Power’s painting, The Tube Train. I did not give any background information about the painting just encouraged students to observe it quietly for a couple of minutes. Then I asked them:

Cyril E. Power, The Tube Train

Cyril E. Power, The Tube Train


What’s going on in this painting?

What do you see that makes you say that?

What more can you find or think about when looking at this painting?



We used sticky notes to document the ideas that we shared during classroom discussion.









Their answers to the What’s going on? prompt fell in two groups: some obvious remarks about the scene depicted in the painting suggesting that these were people sitting on a train or on the metro and their thoughts about the people in the painting. They noticed that the people looked angry and sad. By asking What do you see that makes you say that? they began to observe more carefully searching for details that would justify their responses such as: “I can see handles at the ceiling, I see the place has a circular shape, I see they are holding and reading newspapers and people often read newspaper at the metro”, but also “I see that they aren’t smiling, they don’t care about what’s going on around them”. Some more final thoughts were added like “they are tired because they live a routine life or they are only interested in themselves”.

The activity we first worked on was the What makes you say that? routine. It taps into students’ background knowledge and asks them to:

  • look carefully at works of art
  • talk about what they observe
  • support their ideas with evidence through the emphasis on details to enhance understanding
  • listen and consider the views of others
  • discuss many possible interpretations

 We worked on the same routine with Lowry’s painting Returning from work.

LS Lowry, Returning from work

LS Lowry, Returning from work


What’s going on?

What do you see that makes you say that?

What more can you find or think about when looking at this painting?



Documentation of classroom discussion:









Apart from using sticky notes to document our ideas, students also kept notes during the discussion:

We needed two forty-minute teaching sessions to complete the What makes you say that? activity. In the end, we discussed how the people in the paintings might feel, how we felt by looking at them and what the common elements in the two paintings were. By the end students had identified that we would be dealing with aspects of modern urban life.

The activities were also an effective springboard into writing yielding results like:

When we finished the topic of urbanization we worked on a short improvisation. First, we brainstormed around city life and reflected on the questions: “What do you think someone living in a big city may be thinking? How do you think he/she may be feeling?” Think of your personal experience, your family’s and friends’. Students’ ideas were diverse and after sharing them we shot a short video where their body language was highly influenced by the details we had discussed in Power’s and Lowry’s painting. You can watch the video City Life here. The full lesson proposal on urbanization is here.

The What makes you say that? routine draws on the Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS, Housen, Yenawine & Arenas, 1991). You can read more about the VTS method here and the VT routine here.

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Colour-Symbol-Image: Focusing on visual connections

The Colour-Symbol-Image routine helps students to express their thinking non-verbally. Especially in the case of younger learners, this taps right into their natural creativity and desire for expression. It is a routine that encourages them to identify and capture the heart of ideas they have explored through reading, watching or listening to the selected source material. As they make their selections of colours, symbols, images, students are pushed to make connections and think metaphorically.

Metaphors are a powerful way to develop our understanding of ideas by associating a new concept with a more familiar one and making comparisons. The connections and ideas students come up with need to be understood as highly personal. Therefore we should not evaluate them as they occur. All ideas are possibilities and students should generate as many as they can before identifying degrees of merit.

This routine is best used after students have read a passage from a book, a short story, or a poem, listened to a radio essay or watched a short film, reached the end of a topic or unit. Language level-appropriate, students explain and justify their choices in writing.

Step 1

After having gone through the source material, ask students to take the following steps:

Choose a colour that they feel represents the ideas discussed. Explain why they chose it. (One or two colours should be chosen by students.)

Choose a symbol. Explain why they chose it. (A symbol is something that stands for or suggests something else. For example, roses stand for romance, a heart stands for love, a dove stands for peace.)

Choose an image. Explain why they chose it. (Students may use a photograph or sketch their own drawings. They should not worry about their drawing abilities as it can be something very simple that captures their idea.)

Step 2

Have students work individually, in pairs or in groups. Working with a partner or in a group has the advantage over individual work in that students learn to offer arguments and negotiate meaning.

Step 3

Share the thinking and ideas. Use the student-made output as a teaching input. Have individual students, pairs or groups present their choices and hold a plenary discussion.

Classroom practice

We tried this routine at the end of the topic of war/peace. Students organized themselves in small groups and chose what they wished to represent – war or peace. In my mixed ability primary school classroom this organization worked well. Students shared their ideas with the other members of the group before deciding on the final outcome. Members of the group could contribute in diverse ways. Some were stronger at the verbal part while others at the non-verbal, drawing part. Students first kept notes of their ideas, then shared them among their groups and we used sheets of A3 paper size for the final outcome.

Examples of students’ ideas include:

Things to note: Some groups may find it easier to start with the other parts of the routine first, i.e. symbol or image. The order is not binding.


Papalazarou, C (2015) ‘Making thinking visible in the English classroom: nurturing a creative mind-set’ in Maley, A and Peachey, N (eds) Creativity in the English language classroom. British Council: 37-43. Available free as a pdf file.

Ritchhart, R, Church, M and Morrison, K (2011) Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Visible Thinking, Colour, Symbol, Image Routine

War/Peace: Colour-symbol-image, Art in the English Class project

Posted in Thinking Routines explained, War/Peace | 2 Comments

Step Inside:perceive-believe-care about

Step Inside: perceive-believe-care about is a routine that can work effectively towards appreciation of the other’s perspective. It asks students to step inside a character and deepen their understanding. Perspective often shapes the way things are understood, so this focus on perspective appreciation can lead to a deeper awareness and help stimulate empathy.

Step 1

Show students a work of art, a photograph, a video. The source material may also be a story or a poem the class has read. When working on issues of social justice and fairness, choice of material that can evoke an emotional response and lead to more creative understanding is of importance. It might also be material that involves some sort of dilemma calling for multiple perspectives to be considered.

Step 2

Ask students to step inside, place themselves within the situation and imagine they are a character from the source material. From this perspective, ask them to reflect on the questions:

What do you perceive?

What might you believe?

What might you care about?

Perceive here can be replaced by see, observe or understand. Likewise, believe can be replaced by know or think.

It is interesting to note the use of might in the second and third question. Might sends the message to students that the idea is not to come up with a single answer, but to think broadly about alternatives. Using conditional language signifies our attempt to understand someone else’s perspective through hypothesis making and raising possibilities.

Step 3

Students can work individually, in pairs or in groups. They can first take notes of their responses before sharing them with the rest of the class.

Step 4

Share the thinking and ideas. If students have worked individually you may consider placing them in groups where each member has chosen a different perspective. Another idea would be that students who have chosen the same perspective are grouped together and compare their responses.

Classroom practice

We were working on the topic of deforestation. We tried the routine after having watched a short video of Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree and gone through a relevant ppt presentation of the story.  I asked students to Step Inside the story and imagine they were the tree or the boy. From their chosen perspective they had to respond to the questions. The ideas shared:

Another occasion was when we were working on the topic of bullying. In this case we used the routine to introduce the topic. The source material we used was a detail from Pieter Brueghel’s painting Children’s Games.  The detail showed six boys holding another boy by feet and hands. It was the bump bouncing game which involved bouncing someone’s buttocks on a wooden plunk as a form of punishment. I asked students to Step Inside and imagine they were the boy in the middle of the picture. Their ideas:

In this case I had asked students to Step Inside the character of the boy in the middle of the painting. It would be more complete and interesting in terms of understanding perspectives around bullying to have them also consider the viewpoint of the group of children who were bump bouncing him. I tried to bridge this gap with some follow up questions like: Why do you think the boys behave like that? or why do you think they punish him?

You can also read about this routine in Chapter 4 of the British Council’s new book ‘Creativity in the English language classroom’ (Edited by Alan Maley and Nik Peachey). It is a collaborative publication comprising of 18 chapters, each with a blend of theory and practical activities. The pdf can be found free to download here. Among the contributors there are many members of the C Group, an initiative that brings together a collection of people and a cluster of ideas sharing the belief for reinforced creativity in ELT through collective action.


Children’s Games: Perceive-Believe-Care About, Art in the English Class project

Ritchhart, R, Church, M and Morrison, K (2011) Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. pp. 178-184.

The Giving Tree: Step Inside/Perceive-Believe-Care About, Art in the English Class project

Visible Thinking, Step Inside: Perceive-Believe-Care About


Posted in Environment/Nature, Thinking Routines explained | 6 Comments

See-Think-Wonder: The impact of curiosity on learning

See-Think-Wonder is the first routine I’ve ever used and the first one I wrote about in a post for the Teaching English British Council blog community. It is a routine that asks students to observe carefully, think about what they see, and ask questions. The wonderful thing about it is that it taps right into students’ imagination and curiosity. Curiosity when aroused means they are highly motivated, alert and open to learning. This openness in turn, allows for interesting and original observations, thoughts and questions which are communicated through meaningful language.

Step 1

At the beginning of a topic or a unit, show students a painting, an image, an object. Make sure you choose a powerful stimulus to encourage observation, interpretation and wondering.

Step 2

Ask students to reflect on the questions:

What do you see?

What do you think about it?

What does it make you wonder?

Step 3

Allow for some quiet, uninterrupted observation time. Students can first jot down their responses before sharing them with the rest of the class. They work individually, in pairs or in small groups. It depends on how many ideas you want them to generate.

Step 4

Have students present and share their responses with the rest of the class. Document their thinking and ideas. You can do this by using the board, post-it notes, construction papers on the walls, by encouraging the students to jot down the ideas shared.

Classroom practice

See-Think-Wonder is a routine that works well when starting a topic. As with other thinking routines it’s important for a routine to be attached to meaningful content for thinking beyond surface to occur. I have used it with various topics: War/Peace, Asperger’s & Autism, School, The myth of Europe, Urbanization. I mainly used it when introducing the topic. I am sharing here two examples.

1. When introducing the topic of War/Peace I showed children Picasso’s Guernica. We first explored the painting through the Looking Ten Times Two routine. Groups then worked on the See-Think-Wonder. The ideas shared were:

2. A second case was when introducing the topic of Asperger’s & Autism. This time I chose Blue Butterflies Tongue, a fascinating painting by Steven Coventry, an artist with Asperger’s syndrome. This time many children chose to work in pairs so more ideas were shared:

In both these cases, the See-Think-Wonder routine unleashed in a beautiful way  students’ creative and metaphoric thinking. The surprise and curiosity evoked by the visual stimuli used led to a heightened state of consciousness and emotion brought about by something unexpected. They contemplated with joy, their interest was stimulated, the stage for further inquiry was set, and positive expectations for the next lessons to come were created.

Things to consider: Students must provide answers to all three stems at the same time (I see-I think-I wonder). When you first use the routine, they may respond only to the first stem (I see). In this case prompt responses to the other two by asking the follow-up questions (i.e. What do you think about it? What does it make you wonder?). Once they get used to the routine, they’ll provide answers to all three stems at the same time.


Blue Butterflies Tongue: See-Think-Wonder, Art in the English Class project

Future Megacities: See-Think-Wonder, Art in the English Class project

Guernica: See-Think-Wonder, Art in the English Class project

School: See-Think-Wonder, Art in the English Class project

Visible Thinking, See-Think-Wonder


Posted in Thinking Routines explained, War/Peace | 7 Comments