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Monday, November 11, 2013

Imagination's what you need - ACEIA 2013

On Saturday I gave a workshop at the ACEIA conference in Seville. As always, it was a well-organised and very well-attended event, and I had lots of fun in the sessions I chose to go to.

My session, timetabled at the end of the day, was "Imagination's what you need - multi-sensory guided imagery for all ages" and I hope those who attended weren't too tired to take something useful away from the session! I enjoyed myself and I hope you did too!

Here is the slideshow:

Here is a summary of the workshop:

1) Relaxation - play relaxing classical music (I used Mozart's Clarinet Concerto in A major, Adagio)

     and lower the tone of your voice. Speak slowly, pausing often. Initiate a whole body relaxation e.g.

Make yourself as comfortable as you can in your chair
Put your feet on the floor if that helps
Stretch your arms straight out in front of you
Clench your fists, then relax your fists and drop your arms
Bring your shoulders up to your ears and drop them (twice)
Let your head go forward very slowly and gently
Feel your neck relaxing
Feel your shoulders relaxing
Feel your back relaxing
Feel your chest relaxing
Feel your stomach relaxing
Feel that relaxation going all through your legs to your toes
Feel the muscles of your face relaxing
Feel your eyebrows relaxing and your lips relaxing and your jaw relaxing
And now hold your head still and listen

2) Start your visualisation by asking your students to imagine they are in a specific place. Guide them by giving instructions and asking questions, allowing a few seconds for them to think. I took you to a school corridor and a classroom, and while some of you imagined your actual classroom, others remembered their classroom as a child. The best thing is that it doesn't matter - you can guide your students towards one or the other by giving them more information (this is your old school) if you want to use the technique as a way of helping students to remember details from the past, or making the visualisation freer, giving fewer commands and asking more questions.

3) Benefits - it can inspire students for creative work. Asking learners to write a story without any preparation can be a stressful task, and often come up with stories that are predictable and less-than-interesting. Doing a guided visualisation is a great way of providing a starting point for a story. Guide students through what would be the beginning of the story, asking them to think of the setting and the scene. For example, if you want students to write a scary story for Halloween, try to make your guidance mysterious and frightening. Take them to a dark, empty street where strange noises appear from nowhere. Use your voice wisely to create the right effect.
Another benefit is that it can help create a positive learning environment. It means that all students have something to say and are keen to listen to other people to see if what they imagined is similar or different. Students feel relaxed and comfortable and ready to learn. It is also a good way of changing the dynamics of a lesson. If your students are rowdy, do the relaxation techniques and do a guided visualisation. With their eyes closed, they will listen more carefully and clam down. One tip - don't force your students to close their eyes - you want them to feel comfortable and only they can decide what makes them comfortable. If someone feels better keeping their eyes open, let them. 

4) Pre-reading task - use this technique as a way of introducing the topic of a text. Give your students a reason to read by getting them to imagine and then compare with the text. Pre-teach some of the vocabulary by sneaking in one or two new words from the text, defining them or making the meaning obvious from the context (definition: a clearing, a large open space with fewer trees; context: cut back the trees with your machete).

5) Time machine. Take your students into the past, present or future with time travel. Take them into the time machine, describe it, have them choose an era and press the button. The machine can vibrate and shake, or move smoothly through time like a lift. The years can fly by on a screen. When the machine stops moving, the date on the screen tells you what year you are now in. Open the door and walk outside. Allow your students to wander the streets, looking at buildings and their surroundings. Ask them to go into a house and have a look around. Are there any people? What do they look like? Have them talk to people in their visualisation. If you like, your machine can move in time and space e.g. you are in 1920s New York. 
After the visualisation, ask students to draw and/or write about what they imagined and tell their partner. If you want to teach or have them practise a specific grammar point, put examples on the board and ask students to try to use it. Some common grammatical structures are: past simple/past continuous/past perfect, future simple (predictions), used to/would, conditionals. It is also useful for expressions of contrast, e.g. while/whereas and time expressions.

50 years ago not many people had a Tv, whereas now most people have more than one.
In 50 years' time, all cars will be electric.

6) Taking your learners on an imaginary trip - visualisation for kids.
    Rather than having them sitting down with their eyes closed, I like to get primary learners up and moving about. I do this by taking them on an imaginary school trip.
The idea behind the guided trip was to take the children on a school trip without leaving the classroom. The activity begins with us all sitting on a coach which takes us to the zoo, to the jungle, to the park, or anywhere else we want to go.
Set up the activity by telling the children that we are going on a trip and asking them where they think they are going to go. The destination could be related to your current theme.
You need to set up the chairs so they look like a bus before the activity. When you have done this once, and made sure the children know it is a bus, in subsequent lessons they will already know that they are going on a trip because the bus has arrived.
The children can then get on the bus and one of them can be the driver. Sing a song or chant on the bus. The song I use is one I made up to the tune of “The Farmer in the Dell” and the words are:
We’re going to the (name of place e.g. park)
We’re going to the (name of place)
We’re going to have lots of fun
We’re going to the (name of place)
We then get off the bus and I lead the children round the classroom pointing out the sights. Learners have already been introduced to the main vocabulary used. I often put pictures or flashcards of the vocabulary items on the walls around the classroom as a way of scaffolding the activity and reinforcing the meaning behind the words. It is extremely important to use your voice wisely during these guided trips. You need to be very enthusiastic and imagine that you are actually seeing the things you mention. If you don’t sound like you believe it, the children won’t either.
I also try to include other senses – for this reason I am not sure the term “visualisation” is the right one. I like to include imaginary smells, tastes, and sounds as well as the sense of touch.
7) Sound effects. There are lots of different apps for mobiles/tablets. Use these instead of describing through a text. Play a series of sounds, and then get your students to draw/speak/write about what they imagined. It can be a good way of introducing a topic.

8) Using images - put yourself in the picture. Find pictures from #eltpics on flickr, which you can freely use in class. Ask students to imagine that they are in the picture. They could be an actual person in the photo, or choose a spot (like spot the ball!) where they could be standing. Otherwise, the could be the person taking the photo. Images can be very powerful and are perhaps better suited to low levels than an oral visualisation.
9) Using video - imagine you are there. I showed you a video of the fans before an FA Cup final at Wembley. Imagine that you are there, that this is your team, the first time in such an important final, how do you feel? You can use any kind of video, even the "candid camera" type videos where tricks are played on people. This could be a good one to try, if your students haven't already seen it (it's been doing the rounds on Facebook recently) You can play it when the trick begins so that the students don't see the preparation and know it is a set-up. Other good videos are those filmed with a Go Pro camera - the camera is strapped to the protagonist so it seems like you are watching the video in first person.
10) Multi-sensory experience - try to add sounds, smells and touch to your visualisations, and even taste! Remember, we are just imagining, not really experiencing. However, you could bring in objects for students to actually touch, taste, hear and smell with their eyes closed. Fill a mister with water and a couple of drops of lavendar oil and spray it above your students' heads to create a flowery atmosphere.
Try out some of these ideas, adapt them to suit your students' needs. You can have great fun and will be surprised by the results. Always stress to students that there is no right or wrong answer - whatever they imagine is good. They should allow there imaginations to run freely. Provide the language they need afterwards, go round monitoring and helping students express what they want to say.
Remember, the next time you hear a student say "Teacher, I can't think of anything, I haven't got any imagination, I don't know what to write" try a guided visualisation and get truly imaginative results!
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