Visual cues (3)

I have written about visual cues for ESL students in the past – using a metronome to encourage a sense of pulse and ensemble, and floor markings giving student reference points for organising themselves in the space. Floor markings also seem to assist students in letting go of physical anticipation/tension, and assume a more passive stance, which made a big difference when they were having a try of the violin for the first time.

Today I have been working with SY, a wonderful early years educator and drama guru, who specialises in story-making. We are leading a 2-day Professional Development Seminar for primary classroom teachers. Today was Day One.

SY taught a warm-up game that involves each person having their own little mat to carry and/or place on the floor. The mats are about 25x25cm, made of felt, and in bright colours. She uses the mats to organise a class, and keep control of their movement, all the while giving the children lots of choice and possibility. She starts almost every lesson with these mats, and they teach the children an important kinaesthetic and spoken vocabulary for movement and working in open spaces.

We tried:

  • Placing our mat on the floor and standing on it, ensuring we each had our own ‘personal space’ (measured by swinging our arms around our bodies like a helicopter, and checking we didn’t touch anyone else). SY: My students know exactly what is meant by ‘personal space’ and how to find it because we do this task so frequently.
  • Walking away from our mat, but on a given cue (a drum beat) we had to run back to our own mat.
  • Walking around the space carrying the mat – on heads/elbows/toes/noses, etc – and observing how this changed the way people used their bodies, and the beautiful, unusual shapes they created in the space.
  • Placing our mats on the floor and had to assume different poses, within a given instruction from SY. A pose with your hands touching the floor; bottoms on the floor, but feet off; one hand and one foot only, touching the floor.

Many of these are similar to theatre warm-ups used widely, but the addition of the mats offers ESL teachers a lovely way of organising students within a space without depending on detailed verbal instructions. The mats can help build a vocabulary with the students – both spoken and physical – for working with their bodies in open spaces.

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