Picture biographies (Daniel Janssens)
This is a simple lesson that requires no preparation time. Students are asked to draw pictures
of significant events in their own and others’ lives, and talk about them, and possibly
recapture the sensory impressions they had. It is suited to different learning styles and
focuses on question formation and the use of the past tense. It can be an effective ice-
Level: intermediate upwards
1. Step 1: Ask students to draw on A4 paper sketches in black and white or colour that
illustrate important happy events in their life, for example things that happened to them
in the last two weeks, last month, when they were 10 years old, in the year 2000,
between 2005 and 2010, etc. All the students should agree beforehand on only one
period of their life, which should be the same for everyone. They can draw objects and/or
illustrate their emotions. Four drawings should be enough. IMPORTANT: students should
not show their drawings to anyone. All the students number the paper “1” in the top left
corner. Each student writes his/her name on the back of the paper. (5 minutes).
2. Step 2: Ask students to work with a partner. They take turns to interview each other
(5 minutes each) about the period of their life they have illustrated. Drawings should still
not be shown at this stage. At the same time, the interviewers have to draw on a new
piece of A4 paper their own impressions of what their partner, the interviewee, tells
them. This paper should be numbered “2” in the top left corner. Each student writes
his/her name on the back of the paper. The teacher may provide the students with
questions like the following :
a) How many events did you illustrate?
b) When did one particular event occur?
d) What happened?
e) Who were you with?
f) How did/do you feel about this event? Can you still feel that feeling? Where is it
g) What do you remember seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, etc…
But too direct questions about the drawings, such as: “What did you draw?” or “How did
you illustrate this event?” should NOT be allowed.
3. Step 3: When every student has had a chance to interview their partner and has drawn
their own version of the other student’s period of life, pairs compare their drawings and
discuss the differences (five minutes).
4. Step 4: Next, the teacher collects all the drawings. The original drawings of step 1
(numbered “1”in the top left corner) are then displayed on the walls. Students walk around,
trying to guess who is responsible for the drawings. Students don’t have to speak at this
stage but they can if they want to. Allow another 5 minutes for this.
5. Step 5: Finally, the teacher gives one paper with drawings made in step 2 (numbered
“2” in the top left corner) to each student, making sure students don’t get their own, and
asks them to match it with a paper with drawings made in step, numbered “1”. Of course,
they are forbidden to turn the paper over and look at the name written on the back. If they
are successful, they go and form a new pair with the student who is responsible for the
drawings. Renewed discussion can take place for 5 minutes.
6. As a variation, students could draw (and talk about) important happy events in the
Showing how to draw simple but effective matchstick people or objects can be useful to avoid
frustration in students who are reluctant to draw or cannot draw.
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