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