The art of learning English through crafts

Published: 26th August 2010
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In any classroom, it is important to get students paying attention and listening. One way that I have found effective is to have students create simple, fun crafts. Children of all ages love to create things. Explaining how to construct a craft is an enjoyable experience and students have to listen carefully in order to learn how to do it properly. Be sure you speak slowly and clearly. Children used to listening in a different language require a few extra milliseconds for their brains to process the new information they are receiving in English.

One of the crafts I use is very easy to do and can be adapted for most ages. It is having students each create a mobile using straws, thread and paper designs. Because boys and girls have different interests, I sometimes have different themes - dragons or super heroes for the boys, and princesses or dolls for the girls. If you have a small class, you may even be able to offer students a choice of subject. There are many possible topics...block letters, cars, airplanes, birds, flowers, monsters, pictures of friends, family pictures, dogs, cats, dinosaurs, Disney characters, etc. Any picture dictionary will give you many ideas.

As scissors are involved in the creation of this craft, you will have to use your best judgment as to whether the age of your students permits them to use scissors responsibly. I always remind students that scissors are dangerous and must never be waved around or pointed towards anyone. Under no circumstances should children be allowed to run around with scissors in their hands. Scissors for younger children have rounded for safety ends. Even so, you have to watch them carefully and constantly because kids will be kids.

Materials you need:

1. Two regular drinking straws for each student. You can buy these in packs of 100 at most supermarkets.

2. Thread cut into two different lengths - say, 6" and 9". Two of each per student. Black is a good choice.

3. Colored pencils.

4. A sheet of paper * on which several designs have been printed on both sides in black and white. The designs must line up as mirror images on both sides. It may be tricky to do this. can give the children two sheets each and let them glue them together - then color and cut.

Another way you can set up the mirror images is to do both images on one side of the paper. You can do this in Adobe Photoshop or MS Word. Here's how to do it quite easily in MS Word:

a) On a new blank document, insert an image that you want to use.

b) Insert the same image right beside the first one. Same size.

c) Click on the first image.

d) Click 'copy' (either right-click or from the Edit menu at the top)

e) On the Drawing * * menu (likely at the bottom of your screen), click draw. A menu should pop up. One of the choices will be 'rotate or flip'.

f) Click on 'flip horizontally'.

g) You should now have mirror images on the sheet.

h) Repeat the procedure for the other design you want to use.

i) When the children cut the designs out, they just have to color the images, then fold them so they are back-to-back.

* I suggest printing the designs on light cardstock instead of normal paper. It will make the mobile hang together better.

* * In case the Drawing toolbar is not showing, click on View on the top menu; then toolbars; then check ( √ ) drawing. This should open the drawing toolbar on your screen.


1. The children get to color the designs before they cut them out.

2. Let's say we are doing dragons. Once the four back to back dragons have been colored and cut out, you need to help the children to make a hole in the top (centered) of each dragon so it will hang right when it is suspended.

3. The hole only has to be big enough for the thread to pass through it so something as simple as a ballpoint pen should push a hole through the paper..

4. One end of the thread is tied to each dragon and the other end is tied to a similar hole in each end of the straws.

5. The different lengths of thread referred to earlier are so that you have the designs hanging at different heights - a more pleasing effect.

6. I usually staple the straws so they are in the shape of an 'X' - and you have four ends from which to hang your dragons.

7. Now, you need another piece of thread to be attached to the center of the 'X' so you can suspend the mobile from a lamp, ceiling, beam or whatever is available.

8. To add another dimension, you could add a fifth dragon suspended from the middle of the mobile...the 'X'.

So, where does the English come in, you ask? Well, presumably you will be explaining to the students what they will be doing that day and then showing them how to make the mobile step by step in English and the children have been listening. You can test their prior knowledge about mobiles. What are they? Has anyone seen one? Does anyone have one? Do they remember having one when they were babies hanging above their cribs? What were they made of?

Encourage them to talk with their classmates about their mobile in English and to ask any questions in English. You can help them to form their questions...

"Teacher, how do I attach this?"

"Miss ____, where do I put the hole?"

"Mr._____, does this look all right?"

When the mobiles are fully assembled, each student will have a creative mobile they made themselves and one they can talk about and proudly show to their families. Each student can be encouraged to describe their own mobile to their classmates. They won't even realize they were learning more English while they were having fun and that's what it's all about!

Dr. Toni Soprano is a teacher, writer and researcher. He writes articles on a wide range of topics. Teaching English to Young Learners (TEYL) is a continuing education certificate course that all ESL teachers of kindergarten and creativiy in education.

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