Relationship Tree: Creative ESOL Activity Addressing Mediation and Internalization

This activity can be modified for different grades, ages, and English proficiency levels; however, I am imagining it for a low-high intermediate adult class. The length of time over which the project could be completed could vary. I imagine starting with an hour-long session and then setting aside 30 minutes each week for 10 weeks for students to work on the project in class, in groups and individually, under close supervision. Throughout the 10 weeks, students will share their progress with the class. This is designed to help students think metaphorically in English and to move from imitation to internalization through communicative and creative processes.

Students should have experience using English vocabulary for discussing relationships and for describing things. This activity can complement and be complemented by vocabulary and grammar lessons and build/grow from those lessons. This is a basic skeleton and can be modified quite a bit; order may change; complexity may change.

  1. Examine and discuss a couple of different basic family tree and relationship tree models. Relationships should include more than the “standard” mother, father, uncle, grandfather, son, daughter, etc., as not everyone has a typical family tree. Relationships can include friends, pets, teachers, librarians, butchers, bakers, lifeguards, foster parents, coaches – whoever is important in a student’s life or with whom the student has a meaningful connection of any kind.
  2. Go over family tree examples in class, tracing relationships to show the basic structure/framework of the family tree. Integrate diverse media available to you into the discussion.
  3. Brainstorm all possible relationships a person might have on her relationship tree and write ideas on the board or have students record and organize ideas on the board or overhead.
  4. Together, create a relationship tree skeleton tracing basic relationships as in a standard family tree. Students should guide this creation.
  5. As you’re attempting to trace and connect relationships, demonstrate the ways in which not all relationships are as linear as suggested by a standard family tree. Explore how these trees might represent different characteristics of our relationships, what those relationships mean to us, and how we feel about our connections as well as how they are connected to us through other people.
  6. TREES: Ask students for different kinds of trees and what they mean to them. Bring at least a dozen pictures of trees with different cultural resonances and indigenous to different areas of the world and discuss the characteristics of the trees. Use any media available to augment this discussion. What do the trees do? What do they mean? Do they produce fruit? Do they provide shade? How are they meaningful to a particular culture? What trees do students recognize from popular culture, movies, stories? Magical trees? Mythical trees? More brainstorming, writing and discussion. How could characteristics of these trees represent qualities of a relationship or connection?
  7. Ask students to select a kind of tree for the project and explain why they chose this tree. Give them a few minutes in supervised small groups to talk about what kind of tree they want to choose and why, and then discuss in the larger group.
  8. Provide paper and colored pencils or pens for drawing and ask all students to draw a trunk.
  9. Explain that students can get creative with this – the meaning of a relationship can be shown by how the relationship branches off, and by how the person is described – as a leaf, as a bird, as a piece of fruit, as a twig, as a nest. Try to represent the person/relationship using an image that represents what that person means to you. Demonstrate this with brainstorming activity. Draw a tree trunk on the board. Ask students what kind of tree you should use. Ask why. Ask for help if you are artistically challenged. Describe a relationship. Ask students where/how to draw a branch to represent this relationship. Describe the person. Ask students how to draw that person – a leaf? A falling leaf? An orange leaf? A bird? A pink bird? A flying bird? A dragon? A fairy? A shark? (is it a coral reef instead of a tree?) Expand on different ways of representing different relationships with different images in a large-group brainstorming activity.
  10. Give students 10 minutes to work on trees individually. Explain that this will be an ongoing project that they will work on in class over several weeks, finally producing and presenting a final product to the class after working for several weeks.
  11. Save their projects in a safe place. Think of ways to relate grammar, vocabulary, reading, writing and speaking lessons to the project as the course progresses. 

About sarahjpurdy

I am a writer, editor, English teacher, and Spanish student living in Valparaíso, Chile, where I teach English at the Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María. I also telecommute to the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), where I have worked as a marketing publications writer and editor since 2004. Prior to joining UNR, I worked as a journalist, editing and writing features and news stories for the Reno Gazette-Journal. I earned a master’s degree and a bachelor’s degree in English literature from UNR, where I was chosen for a graduate research assistantship in Victorian literature and graduated with a 4.0/4.0 cumulative GPA. I also taught at UNR for three semesters as a discussion leader for cross-disciplinary Core Humanities 201 and 202 courses, which examine Western literature, history, and culture from Mesopotamia and Ancient Greece through the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution to World War II, the postcolonial era, and postmodernity. For eight months prior to moving to Chile in February 2011, I volunteered as ESL tutor for the ESL In-Home Program of Northern Nevada. In fall 2010 I earned a 50-hour TEFL Certificate from the University of Arizona and a 30-hour Social Media Marketing Certificate from UNR, and completed a graduate TESOL course through UNLV.
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