May 14, 2013

Using pictures to share feelings while learning

                                                                               "One Picture is worth ten thousand words." 
                                                                                                                     Chinese Proverb

I'd like to share today three activities with pictures that promote dialogue about feelings while learning. These three affective activities are favorites of mine and are all variations of one main pedagogical strategy called Emotional Thermometer. 

The Emotional Thermometer is based on the principle that we can provide a better environment for students to learn when we are all able to trust each other and share our feelings. Knowing how learners feel allow us to gain rapport, tune in, and adjust our actions. Some of these changes might include changing activities or the order in which they were planned, not calling students  having a hard day, and welcoming suggestions for future classes, among others. 

The very interesting thing is that pictures, as the proverb says,  can bring to surface emotions that we and students can not express verbally, not only by lack of words in the foreign language, but mainly by a lack of conscience. I dare to say that learners are in a routine whirlpool and are not used to thinking about their emotional states and the consequences these bring to the quality of their learning. So I believe that bringing conscience and verbalizing these states certainly empowers learners in their path. 
A deck of picture cards, among other possibilities,  can be prepared to facilitate this dialogue with students. This card set, usually with 20 cards, can have engaging themes such as animals, landscapes, objects, among others. It is important to make sure that the chosen cards represent a wide range of feelings and emotions. Here I share interesting images of animals that can be used to make different sets of cards. 

Here we go! 

How do you feel today? 

This activity is perfect to know how your students feel on some special days throughout the course. These special days include the beginning/end of the course, classes before/after tests, before/after presentation, among others. I do not do this activity on a regular basis to save it for these special days.

Here is how we do it at school with our small groups. We spread the cards on the floor or on the table, let students look at them, and then ask them to choose one according to how they feel that day. After this, the teacher gets one card and models how he/she feels. At this point students only listen. We also tell them that they can say "pass" and only show their card, not having to say how they feel. It's important to make sure that each person is brief and that other students respect the one who is talking. They also shouldn't comment or make questions to others, as this might take the focus away from acknowledging how each one feels that day.

How did you like the class today? 

Getting feedback after class is always an opportunity to reflect on our practice and to learn how your pedagogical intentions have been perceived by students. Moreover, we can understand how they learn better in order to provide customized learning experiences in the future.

The procedure is basically the same as in the previous activity. You can choose to have learners evaluate the class you have just finished or the classes so far. One possibility here is for students to show their card, talk about how they feel, and suggest something for the future. It is ok for students to be silent or not to have suggestions in the first times you ask them, as trust is built over time when they notice that their suggestions have been valued and that this dialogue is for real. Last, it's essential to always truly share how you feel, to thank the students or sharing,  and to make sure that you incorporate some of their suggestions in the next classes.

How do you feel about your ___________ ? 

 Reading - Writing - Intonation - Pronunciation - Vocabulary - Speaking - Listening - Grammar  

We surely invest a lot of time and effort in having a balanced curriculum with integrated skills through interesting themes. But how do students feel about their effort and competence? Is it important for us to know these impressions? Yes, very important! Even though we might have a general guess of how students feel about their skills, it is important to check our impressions, as not everything is what it seems!

I suggest you start by asking your students to evaluate one skill in which you feel most of the class is good at to make them used to talking about their skills. I would also model by talking about my experience as a language learner of English or as a learner of other languages. As in the previous activity, it might take some time for students to start talking about their fears and  accomplishments, but I consider that only to have them thinking about their skills is a good start. Another way to promote dialogue is to ask them to write about the cards they chose or to have individual moments with each student. 

Some extra hints: 
  • If you have enough time, you can build the card set with your students. 
  • Use always the same set with your group throughout a course. 
  • Make the same question in the beginning and in the end of a course to compare if studnets have picked up the same card. Ask them what has changed.  
  • Start with the first activity to get students used to the cards and to talking about feelings. Some weeks later you can move to the second or third activities. 

You might be thinking now that these activities might go well with teens and adults, but you are not sure how they would go with young learners. You have a point there. My experience is that if you often talk about feelings while learning students get used to it and open up. One thing that helps with young learners is to have only a few smiley faces.  

Glad I have share these secrets with you! 

Do you use pictures to talk about feelings in your classes? How do you do it? 

I'd love to hear from you!

Send you a big frug,  


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  1. Hello dear Juan!!! I loved your post this time! It made me think a lot as I never thought of taking these kinds of pics to ask my students how they feel. I adored the duck shot, it's so funny!!
    There are no questions today... there is a "hands-on to work"!!!
    Thanks for taking me into account and for sharing your posts!
    Smiles, Maria :)

    1. Hi Maria!!!

      The duck picture is really a funny one. It is really interesting what each picture could mean to every student. Probably the duck one is the student that is so excited that can't even sleep the day before class.

      Try the activities with your class. You might have to do stations to be with small groups or you can have students move in the classroom to the picture they choose.

      It's always a treat to read your lovely comments. Thank you for recognizing my work!

      Frog-hugs from Toronto straight to Cordoba,


  2. Hi Juan!

    I have just discovered your blog and I think it's great. I'm a nursery teacher attempting to teach English through play and there is so much stuff here to help me I don't know where to begin!! Thanks for sharing all your ideas.

    Laura, in Italy :-)

  3. I love this activity! Where do you find the pictures for this? It's always a challenge for me to find images that give permission for use. Thanks for a great idea :)


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