Extreme Structures: ESL Lessons with Strength

Extreme Structures: ESL Lessons with Strength

Whether students and teachers realize it or not, physics can make for some of the most memorable classes in a school career. Anyone who has ever designed a machine to protect an egg as it falls from the roof of the school building remembers that experience, and there are plenty of similar lessons to engage and entertain students. Just because you teach English, though, does not mean your students cannot have these types of memorable in class experiences. Whether it is physics or history, language is part of the learning process, so when you feel inspired to bring a little daring science into the language classroom, do it! Here are some suggestions on how to make it a successful experiment.

How to Proceed

  1. 1

    Building Bridges

    Depending on the city in which you live, bridges may be hard to find or they may be around every corner. For example, Allegheny County in PA, USA has over one thousand bridges, and the city of Pittsburgh is second only to Venice in number of bridges. Of course, as ESL teachers we are building bridges all the time, bridges between cultures and peoples as our classrooms often reflects the influences of a global society. Though your students may or may not find themselves building bridges of understanding, you can have them build bridges that test engineering and strength. Explain to your class that groups of students will compete in class to build the strongest bridges. Each group of four students should come up with a design to build a bridge between two desks or tables in your classroom. After positioning the desks two feet apart, give student groups some time to design a bridge that fits between them. You may want to provide some time for in class research on different types of bridges before the building session, and you may invite students to bring materials from home or limit them to the items that can be found in the classroom.

    Once the bridges are complete, ask your students to think of an objective way to measure their strength. They will have to discuss different options and work together to choose the best one. Then the class should choose one or more people to conduct the strength tests. The bridge that is the strongest wins.

    After the bridge building and judging are complete, have your class reflect on the activity and their bridges by writing a short reflection. What was the most successful part of the bridge? What part was unsuccessful? What would they do differently the next time they build this type of structure? Have each person give his or her bridge an overall grade in the evaluation.

  2. 2

    Tossing Pumpkins

    No, it is not the name of an alternative music group, it is a fun and energetic activity for your ESL class if you have the room and the resources to pull it off! If you live near a farm or have a farmers market nearby, the fall is probably filled with pumpkin sellers from September 1st through the end of October. When Halloween is over, though, most farms no longer have a need for the pumpkins they have been selling. If you can connect with an owner or operator of a farm or market, he or she may be willing to donate all the leftover pumpkins to your class or your school for an unforgettable class activity and test of strength.

    With the extra pumpkins, challenge your students to create a device that will shoot a pumpkin as far as possible. To get their creativity flowing, give your class some time to explore the site punkinchunkin.com where they can find pictures, videos and articles about the annual event that happens the first Saturday of November. The Science channel broadcasts the annual event at which some pumpkins fly as many as four thousand feet. Your students should not expect to build anything as sophisticated and technical as what those professional pumpkin chuckers do, but they can use their imaginations and ingenuity to cast the gourd as far along a football field as possible. Working in groups, have your students challenge their physics knowledge and ingenuity and create a pumpkin tossing device. Make sure that on test day you have proper safety measures in place so no one gets hurt, and then let the pumpkins fly awarding the team with the farthest flying pumpkin the title of kings (or queens) of the gourd.

    Like with the bridge building exercise, have teams write an evaluation of their pumpkin chucking devices. What worked on the device? What did not work? What would they change next autumn? Have each group give their invention an overall grade in the evaluation.

  3. 3

    Dropping Eggs

    Perhaps the most commonly performed physics test is the rooftop egg drop! In this contest, individuals or groups of students build structures intended to protect an egg when it is dropped from the school roof. You will need to supply your class with some raw eggs as well as the rules for the egg drop, and you can find several examples online. In your rules, you should specify the height from which the egg will be dropped, the weight and size limit of the structure (if you choose to have any), and what criteria will be used to judge the structure. You should give these rules to your students along with a copy of this article, which gives advice on how to construct a rooftop egg drop mechanism.

    Having your students work in pairs will challenge them to communicate with one another but allow each person in the pair to give significant input to the design and construction of the egg drop. Give your pairs around a week to complete their structures and then ceremoniously drop the eggs from the roof! As with the other activities, have each team evaluate their mechanism. What was most successful about the device? What part, if any, failed on the device? What would they do differently if they were to build the machine again? What would they give as an overall grade?

Language is a dynamic, creative creature, and language teachers can include just about any content in their classrooms and still have students learn.

These activities are adventures in (and outside) the classroom and should only be undertaken with enough planning, but if you give them a try your students will never forget the days in your classroom!

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