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9 Activities to Get Your Learners Thinking Like Inventors

January 22, 2013

ESL Library’s teaching theme for January is Innovation.

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

—Albert Einstein

There are those lessons in which our learners come out feeling empowered, as if they have the ability and skills to make a positive impact in the world. These are the lessons in which you leave with an extra jump in your step and it feels great to be a teacher. These are the kind of lessons I live for, the ones in which I feel my students have left with more than knowledge. They have left my class feeling passionate and excited about learning. They have left wanting to create with their knowledge.

This semester try one of the lesson ideas below to get your students feeling innovative—creating and exploring while they are learning. Then revisit us and let us know how your students responded and reacted.

Idea #1

Advertising This Tool

Break students into pairs or small groups. Begin this lesson by giving the groups an everyday object like a pen, water bottle, or paperclip. Tell the groups that each object does so much more than what we see. For example, the pen might write secret messages that self destruct. The students can imagine all kinds of possibilities. Then the groups have to create short advertisements to market these new inventions. Here’s a lesson plan for this project by a language teacher in India. Here are the commercials her students came up with that also showcase their inventions. I liked this one where they invented a new kind of chalkduster.

Idea #2

An Innovation Day

Have a day in which students are able to create an invention with the help of a mentor. Then give students a chance to showcase their inventions for the community. This idea was inspired by this article, Why Every School Needs an Innovation Day.

Idea #3

Recycled Invention

Have families, businesses, and the community donate recycled machine parts from cell phones, computers, appliances, and so forth. Spread out these parts on a table, and supply students with glue guns, duct tape, and other supplies to help them create robots or inventions with the recycled materials. Then have students take a photo of their invention and use an app like Voicethread to describe their invention. When I worked at a museum, this was an ongoing free project for kids and they loved working with their hands to build with the recycled machinery. They were very creative and loved describing their invention.

Idea #4

Create an App

Various online tools make it easy for students to create free apps on Google Play. Have students work in pairs or small groups to design an app or you can have your class work with an app developer to create an app. You can try any of these following free app developers: WebMobi, AppShed, or Conduit.

Idea #5

Solve a Real-World Problem

Have students brainstorm problems within their community or facing the world. Then students can work in small groups to come up with ideas to solve that problem. You can find a list of problem based lesson plans here and discover kids that are coming up with solutions to fix problems worldwide in this presentation. RandomKid is a database dedicated to getting kids to solve world problems.

Idea #6

Life Would Be Easier if…

Have a roundtable discussion in which each student talks about what they wish someone would invent to make life easier.

  • Before the discussion, have students brainstorm problems they deal with daily or what irks them. They can work in pairs and create a mindmap of these problems or jot them in a chart. Try Popplet, Twiddla, and LucidChart to get your students brainstorming with graphic organizers.
  • After they come up with problems, it’ll be easier for them to jot down possible solutions.
  • After they come up with solutions, they will be ready to come up with inventions that will solve these problems. Have them draw a model of this invention and describe it.

Idea #7

Interview an Inventor

Students enjoy learning from creative types. Try finding an inventor in your community who will visit your students live. Have your learners prepare questions for this inventor. You might try Skyping or having a Google HangOut with an inventor you see online.

Idea #8

Develop a Game

Free online tools like Scratch allow students to create their own interactive games and stories that others can play. Have your students develop a game then have others play the game. You can give them a checklist of requirements for the game and assess them with a rubric. Your students can also map and image games with Purpose Games and various arcade games and QR games with ClassTools.

Idea #9

Discover an Animal, Insect, Species, or Planet

Many sites and apps inspire kids to describe a creature from their imagination. Below are a list of great webtools and apps to get your students creating their own animals, monsters, bugs, and more.

  • Night Zookeeper – Students listen to stories from the Night Zookeeper, play creative games, then create animals for the Zookeeper to take care of. You can find several lesson plans for teachers on the website. There is a free app for the iPad where the students can draw their animal and describe it.
  • MoshiMonsters – This is a game where students invent a monster, create its home, and then take care of the monster.
  • Make a Monster – Students create a monster with various physical feature options. Then the monster comes to life, dances, and sings a funny song. I have used this activity for students to create a monster then they have to describe the planet their monster comes from. We usually end the lesson making Oobleck in different colors and the students pretending the Oobleck is their planet. You can also have students use Playdoh instead to create their planets. The students also write stories featuring their monsters and the planets they live on. You might try Little Bird Tales or Zooburst to create these stories online.
  • Make a dangerous animal – Students create a dangerous animal by choosing from various body part options. Have them create a story featuring their dangerous animals. You might try Little Bird Tales or Zooburst to create these stories online.

More Great Websites & Resources

Find more ideas of how to effectively teach about innovation by visiting the resources below:

What other ideas do you have?

To see more of Shelly’s tips for online resources for teaching English, check out her feed!

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Break students into pairs or small groups. Begin this lesson by giving the groups an everyday object like a pen

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