First day at school: “I remember summer” poems


the unbearable lightness of summer

This was the first lesson of the new school year with my 6th grade groups, twelve years old primary school children (A2- level of English). We greeted each other exchanging wishes for a productive and interesting school year ahead. The shiny little faces in front of me were all familiar from our previous years together, yet it always amazes me how fast children of this age can change in two months during the summer break. We were all a bit numb; half present at school and half reminiscent of the carefree summer days we had left behind.

Since the school is still understaffed there was no fixed timetable so the element of surprise is strong. The 6th grade groups I would be working with that day had just been given their two new English books, and had piled them on top of the rest of the books for all the other subjects they will be taught this year; seventeen books in total. Their small heads were almost hidden behind this pile. I decided I was not going to ask them to open their books on this first day. This was going to be a forty-five minute session and after initial greetings and wishes we had about thirty-five minutes at our disposal.

I drew a sun on the board and wrote the word summer in it. I heard a few sighs in the classroom. I added the word memories in the sun shape. More sighs were heard. I wrote underneath, outside the shape: I remember…

I asked them to close their eyes, think of their summer, and choose only one of their memories to share with the rest of the class. They would start with I remember and try to keep their answers short, up to five or six words.

I rememberThis was a brainstorming activity and it was not long before initial awkwardness receded and summer memories filled the classroom board. Students were speaking, listening to their classmates’ ideas, I was recording their responses on the board and they were taking notes. Here is an example of the brainstorming diagram we ended up with one of the groups.

img20160918_15191482-page-001-%ce%b1%ce%bd%cf%84%ce%b9%ce%b3%cf%81%ce%b1%cf%86%ce%aeWhen we completed this step, I asked students to choose one of the memories shared because it was most important to them. I wrote on the board the first choice. It was “the sea view”. I asked: How was this sea view? They came up with “beautiful, gorgeous, colourful”. I added this as a second line underneath. Then, another student chose “riding my bike”. I wrote it on the board as the third line. I asked: Why did you like riding your bike? The answer was “Because I saw the sea”. I wrote “I saw the sea” as a fourth line. How was the sea? was my last question. Calm, was the answer. I added as a last verse: The calm sea.

We went on adding verses to our poem in the same way. Students would choose a memory and then I would ask them to add something relevant to it. The questions usually aimed either at encouraging them to come up with some descriptive language or explore and explain their feelings.  The what, where, how, and why of their memories. Each stanza of the poem had four or five verses. The rough pattern was: memory-expanding on it-memory-expanding on it.

Here is another example of how this activity worked with another group of eleven-year-old 5th graders I taught that day (A1+ level of English).

Some of the stanzas turned out to be more coherent in terms of the overall meaning they communicated while others had unexpected associations. This is because children chose a memory at random from the initial brainstorming diagram, but it is also has to do with the actual way memory works. It does not work directly, you need to wake up different angles. I have been thinking after trying this activity in class that the “I remember” element could also work with other prompts; Christmas, Easter, a happy/sad day in my life. It would also be interesting if we asked students to think back and choose five to ten memories about people, places, events they have experienced. It will all be about using personal experience to write creatively.

It was a nice first day at school. Students dived in their summer experience, voiced it, experimented with language and vocabulary, and communicated creatively and freely. I was happy to find out in the next lesson that quite a few of them had tried to go on with writing short poems at home without having been assigned this as homework activity.

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Looking 10×2: Pushing beyond the obvious

In this post I will describe the Looking 10×2 thinking routine. It is a routine that helps learners slow down, concentrate, observe carefully and describe. The routine stems from the Artful Thinking programme, one of the programmes at Project Zero. It is linked by the theme Visible Thinking which aims at helping students develop thinking dispositions that foster thoughtful learning.

Step 1

Introduce the source material. This may be any kind of image, painting or artwork, especially visual art.

Step 2

Ask students to concentrate and look quietly at the source material for thirty seconds. If the source material is rich in details, you can extend the time to one minute.

Step 3

Ask them to take notes and make a list of up to ten words or phrases about any aspect of what they have just seen. In this stage students can work individually, in pairs or in small groups.

Step 4

Work as a whole class and share ideas. As students come up with their words and phrases keep a visible record on the board by using a brainstorming diagram or a concept map. A circle map works well with this routine. Ask students to take notes of the ideas shared in class.

Step 5

Repeat steps 1-4. That is, ask students to look again, add more words and phrases to their list, and share them.

Step 6

As this is a routine that helps students generate descriptive language, it is a useful springboard into a writing activity. After completing the routine ask them as a writing assignment to produce a short text reflecting on the activity, the classroom discussion or elaborating further on the thoughts and ideas the routine triggered.

Classroom experience

Ida5f1-circlemap have tried this routine on quite a few occasions so far with my mixed ability A2+ groups of 6th graders (twelve years old).  The first one was with the topic of war/peace where we used Picasso’s Guernica as the source material. I did not tell them anything about the artwork apart from the title and the name of the painter. Students were highly engaged and motivated and came up with some interesting responses. Their responses involved references both to what was obvious (horse, bull, lamp, door, faces, feet) as well as attempts beyond it (lost lives, lost dreams, black world, death, fear). We used a circle concept map to document our words and phrases. Red marker was used for the words and phrases they came up with when we repeated the routine.

Another occasion was with the topic of refugees. Here the source material was an illustration for World Refugee Day by Hanane Kai, a graphic designer. Again, students’ responses were recorded through the use of a circle concept map.

A third occasion was with the topic of mobility disability. In this case the source material was an image by Ian James for ELTpics. This time we used a brainstorming diagram.

Things to consider

The idea in this routine is to have students slow down their usual busy mode of work and spend some time to look carefully and think.  Careful looking means taking time to notice more than what meets the eye at first glanceIt is the observing and describing disposition that is at work here, a component of creative thinking, which is about noticing, thinking and communicating impressions.

What I find interesting about the Looking 10×2 routine, and the same goes with all the routines I have tried in class, is that it serves what David Perkins calls “the optimal ambiguity” in an assignment. It is flexible for the teacher, structured enough to guide students, and open enough to let them discover their unique paths. This openness results in a nice flow of ideas expressed in the English classroom.

Using artwork as source material is enriching as it provides a nonjudgmental territory for students. Art is open to multiple interpretations, pushing students at the edge of what is and what isn’t; it is exploring, there are no incorrect answers and this is particularly important for students with low confidence.

The routine is most effective when attached to a topic or content which gives students something worth thinking about. It can also be nicely combined with the See-think-wonder routine to push their thinking further.

The routine may also be used with a piece of music as Listening 10×2. 


Art in the English Class, Guernica: Looking 10×2

Artful Thinking, Looking 10×2

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.


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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

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