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More Than Five Things to do with LEGO® in the EFL Classroom Part 1 (by Emma Herrod)

Firstly, I’d like to put this post into some sort of context.  In 2002, I landed a dream job (at the time) working at the LEGO Company.  The next five years were so much fun and those little coloured bricks became part of my everyday life.  Now I feel I need to give the studded plastic something back and perhaps offer them another raison d’etre.  At the LEGO Company, when I attended any kind of meeting, there was, 99% of the time, a bowl of LEGO bricks on the table. They weren’t just decoration – they were to be fiddled with – and I defy anyone not to feel the tension drop in their shoulders and the inner child not to emerge when given the green light to tinker with those little blocks of primary-coloured plastic during a business meeting.  ‘LEGO’ by the way is not a typo, but brand requirement in any written reference to the toy and yes, I was brainwashed by a zealous marketing department.

So, this guest post is me attempting to give something back to a toy that gave me so much pleasure as a child, and as a working adult. It is not something I am doing for the sake of a whacky post. In a cynically corporate world, LEGO remains a family business with a genuine set of wholesome values that runs through its core.  The company began in the 1930s with a 17 year old Danish boy, Ole Kirk Christiansen, carving wooden toys.  The word ‘LEGO’ itself comes from two Danish words “LEg GOdt” meaning “play well”.   Over the years it has become a huge brand with worldwide appeal and has the well-earned status of “Toy of the Century” (Fortune Magazine and the British Association of Toy Retailers). It has, I believe, a unique ability in today’s toy market, to transcend age, language and gender barriers and encourage a therapeutic feeling of familiarity and comfort in adults and children alike.  So given the smiles it so often brings in our hands, why not bring some brick-shaped joy into the ELT classroom?

So without further ado, here are my five suggestions of things to do with LEGO in the ELT classroom.  By the way, for some of these activities, it may be worth checking whether any of your students suffer from colour blindness.

LEGO Running ‘Bricktation’

This activity works in a very similar way to the well-know ‘running dictation’ ELT activity.   However, rather than a text pinned up on the wall, students refer to a picture of a LEGO model from a set of building instructions.

For some model pictures ideal for this activity, you can visit the LEGO Instructions Site at http://us.service.lego.com/en-US/BuildingInstructions/default.aspx.  Filter under the “Select a Brand” drop-down box for “Creative Building System” (LEGO Creative being the sets that come unthemed – they are often sold as a box of bricks with an Ideas Book).  Choose one of the Ideas Book pdf files.  The models in these pamphlets are usually of a good size and difficulty for this task.

This activity is aimed at encouraging good verbal communication and looking at some of the language needed to give clear instructions and make suggestions.

  • Divide the class into teams.  It doesn’t matter how many people in each team as students can take it in turns to be the runner if necessary.  If the class is small, this activity can also be in pairs with one person the builder and the other the runner.  I have found however that the energy is far greater, the more people on each team.
  • Give each team a box of LEGO, ensuring obviously that each box contains the necessary bricks needed to build the model (don’t laugh – I’ve not checked before and it’s a disaster!).
  • Pin the picture of the finished model to the wall or outside the classroom in the corridor.
  • Each team selects a builder and the first runner and off they go!
  • Each runner heads to the instructions memorises a section and returns to the builder with the next set of verbal instructions on how to put the model together.
  • The teacher observes, collecting language, focussing on good examples and instances which need refining.  You could choose to focus on a particular language point such as imperatives or questions forms and then look at how the successful teams functioned as a group.
  • At the end of the activity look at how each group’s model compares to the one on the wall.

Writing instructions activity

Students begin by building a model together as a class.  In teams, they then build their own model and write out instructions so other teams can try and replicate it.  The idea here is to develop the skill of writing concise instructions and working together with other students towards a common objective.

  • The task begins with the class helping to build a larger model together.  Distribute the bricks needed randomly around the class so that each student has a few.  Show the written instructions on the board and invite students to put the model together as a class.  With the instructions on the board, this stage exposes the students to some of the language they will need to perform the writing task later on in the lesson.
  • After the class model is completed, the teacher gives students boxes of LEGO with assorted bricks in.
  • In pairs, students build a model of something.  They can let their imaginations run wild here!
  • The teacher goes around the room, observing and helping with language between the pairs if necessary.
  • When students have finished their models, students then write up instructions on how to build their models.
  • While students are writing up their instructions, the teacher takes a quick photo of each of the finished models.
  • Students dismantle the models and hand in their box and instructions to the teacher.
  • The teacher then redistributes the boxes to different pairs.
  • With their new box and set of instructions, students set about building the models designed by the other teams.
  • While students are building their new models, the teacher will need to hook up the camera to the IWB/PC and upload the model pictures. When everyone is finished, the final models are compared with what they should look like.
  • It’s nice at this point too if students can give feedback on how easy the instructions were to follow.  Did they have any difficulties?  What differences are their between the original design and their attempt?

Be sure to check back tomorrow for more great teaching ideas with LEGO®!


I live in the UK, about 20 miles from London, with my little companion Thomas, aged four.  I teach English to all kinds of people.  Business professionals who are learning English for work, teenagers from abroad who have relocated here with their parents, students who moved to the UK for a few months, fell in love, and now need the language to live and argue with their new husband/wife. There are so many stories, no two students, or their English needs seem to be the same.  That is why I love what I do.

Some other things you might care to know about me…

–     I drink far too much coffee for my own good and frequent coffee shops on a regular basis.

–      I own five pairs of red shoes.

–      I knit a mean tea cosy.

–      I am terrified of bugs/mini beasts of any kind

–      Thomas and I love doing Origami (or Mr Garmi as he calls it)

–      Worst job I ever had was cleaning toilets in an old people’s home – I think ELT is a little better!

–      My Twitter ID is @EHerrod

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23 Comments

  1. Barbara says:

    Thank you, Emma! These are great ideas and I’m ready to head to the toy store tomorrow before class (or soon, anyway!). These are very clever ways to use something that’s easy for all teachers to find.

    The ideas in tomorrow’s part two are just as great, and I think other teachers will enjoy them just as much as I do!

    1. Emma Herrod says:

      aww well bless you lovely lady :)

      Thank-you so much for giving me the opportunity to write for your blog – ‘honoured’ is an understatement.

      I hope too that teachers will experiment and NOT stick to the rules! That’s the fun and nature behind LEGO – it’s all up to your imagination.

      Also, as people will see tomorrow, no need to spend lots of money on bricks – some credit-crunch-friendly LEGO solutions and a competition :) wooo-hooo :)

      Emma x

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Shelly S Terrell, coletteamber, Matthias Heil, Barbara Sakamoto, Janet Bianchini and others. Janet Bianchini said: Via @barbsaka Fun things to do with LEGO® in the EFL classroom (Part 1) by @EHerrod (Stuff all EFL Teachers should know) http://ow.ly/1Qbal […]

  3. Emma,

    I love this post! What a great job and what great activities! When I did the curriculum for museum education classes I used to invite my friend Brandon as a regular guest speaker for the children. They loved him, because he was our Lego expert. He would bring in these enormous Lego creations that he created. He had an amusement park, rollercoaster, and more that were like 5 ft by 5 ft. They had lights and moved as well! After he would show his structures he would help the students build their own Lego creations. The theme was usually pulleys, gears, and other simple machines! Thanks for taking me down memory lane.

    1. Emma Herrod says:

      Thank-you Shelly – as ever, you’re feedback is much appreciated.

      There really are some crazy enthusiasts out there who do weird and wonderful things with small bits of plastic. Check out these guys – they rock! http://www.brickish.org/

      Be sure to check by tomorrow and see the other ideas – there’s one there in particular that you might like ;)

      Emma x

  4. I just want to say that this is the most exciting and inspiring blog post I have read in a very long time. I have a 4-year old who is starting to go beserk with LEGO, and I’ve been planning a blog post to explore the issues with creativity and language development.

    LEGO Bricktation – Oh my goodness, the most exciting concept I’ve heard for TEYL in a VERY long time!

    I have to stop now, before the positive superlatives start sounding farcical. I’m just so terribly impressed and inspired!!!

    I’ll be back tomorrow. Reserve me a seat near the front, please. I am willing to pay, and also willing to outbid other applicants.

    :-)

    Thanks Emma!

    – Jason

    1. Emma Herrod says:

      Jason – woah!

      Thank-you for a wonderful (and superlative-filled) response. I’m new to the writing blog thing but it’s sure good to know even if just one or two people find what you have to say useful. Your kind words are very encouraging.

      I’m a firm believer in the correlation between creativity and language development. I’m also sure than when our students have the opportunity to become immersed in a cognitive and creative task, that the language will fall out of their mouths – I’ve seen it :)

      Thanks again for your kind words and I’d be happy to explore some of this in more detail with you if you’re ever inclined to do so.

      All the best from the UK
      Emma

  5. Nergiz Kern says:

    I totally agree with Jason! Your ideas are great and I’m very curious about part 2 :-)

    I love the LEGO Bricktation idea (and word creation) but I was thinking of my monolingual class and thought it might not work. I’ve tried using computer games with them but instead of reading the instructions, they simply go with the visuals and help each other in Turkish (low Elementary). I need to find strategies to avoid that.

    The writing activity is also really fantastic especially for those students (and teachers) who are tired of the “usual stuff” or the more “hands-on types” don’t like writing tasks.

    Lovely!

    Nergiz

    1. Emma Herrod says:

      Hi Negiz,

      Thank-you for taking the time to respond to the post and I’m glad you found the ‘Bricktation’ idea interesting – I think the word came to me in the middle of the night – it was too terrible to let it go!

      Your point about monolingual classes is a good one and when the students are excited and competing in teams, the L1 seems to come out in all the enthusiasm does it? What about doing the activities on a points system? For example with the model building activity, add points for the teams who complete the task just using English, and deduct points from the teams who you hear using L1. Might just mean you having to be a wandering language moderator for the duration of the task.

      Do let me know how it goes!

      All the best,
      Emma

    2. For problems with L1 invasion of the activity, I have a sure fire way of dealing with that… Every time I hear the L1 instead of English, I confiscate a brick.

      :-)

      Doesn’t mean you have to be nasty or anything, just make rules and uphold them, and to maintain the target language, the best way is to make it impossible to complete the exercise to perfection without sticking to it.

      Might want to take it a little easier on the lower/younger levels, though – at least to start out with.

      Cheers,

      – Jason

      1. Ceri says:

        adding to Jason’s comment – and make sure they have a (language)model to follow – do it yourself first – set up and play with any useful chunks – award extra bricks for groups doing really well – maybe a colour they’re not using in the model so it stands out? maybe give groups a chance to earn/win some more at the end by shouting out stuff they were saying in English?

        btw love the post and all the ideas – thanks!

  6. Hi Emma

    Thank you for these lovely ideas! I have a small box of LEGO in my classroom but I haven’t been as creative as you!

    I use it with children to practise prepositions of place and giving instructions. Each child builds a simple model out of a few bricks (my set isn’t very big!) and then explains how to build it e.g. Put the red brick under the yellow brick etc. They then compare.

    I have also used the bricks to teach adjectives of size: big, small, long, short, thin, fat. Also to internalise vocab such as animals where the children try to build an animal of their choice, or a robot where we discuss different parts of the body.

    Once I tried to use them to make sentences as a replacement for cuisenaire rods, with a group of adults, but if I remember rightly it didn’t go down so well!

    Looking forward to your other ideas tomorrow.

    Michelle

  7. […] that there is a lot to learn from these “oldie but goodie” posts by educators. Title: More than 5 Things to do with LEGO® Writer: Emma Herrod Role in Education: English Teacher in the UK Date Posted: May 27, 2010 […]

  8. […] lego blocks on Barbara Sakamoto’s blog Teaching Village in a blog that appeared in two parts. More Than Five Things to do with LEGO® in the EFL Classroom Part 1 (by Emma Herrod) Teaching Village Rotating Header Image More Than Five Things to do with LEGO® in the EFL Classroom […]

  9. […] lego blocks on Barbara Sakamoto’s blog Teaching Village in a blog that appeared in two parts. More Than Five Things to do with LEGO® in the EFL Classroom Part 1 (by Emma Herrod) Teaching Village Rotating Header Image More Than Five Things to do with LEGO® in the EFL Classroom […]

  10. Ann Foreman says:

    Just posted a link to this on the TeachingEnglish facebook page http://www.facebook.com/TeachingEnglish.BritishCouncil if you’d like to check for comments.

    Please feel free to post there when you have anything you’d like to share.

    Best,

    Ann

    1. Barbara says:

      Thanks, Ann. I’ll try and remember to post links to new posts :-)

  11. Janet Taylor says:

    This is a great idea! I also teach in Adult Education and this would be great team building exercise. I love the visual and written instructions because you KNOW one person will be building just by looking at the picture and another person will want to read the directions step by step.

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