Friday, October 28, 2011

Designing a T-shirt as a prompt for writing

© Enric Calvet

One of the most troublesome things in the teaching of English as a second Language is to push students into writing.

Every time you do an activity that implies some thinking and writing you get a “long” collection of complaints. If you ask them…

“I don't like writing. My teacher is always asking me to do some writing. I think she is killing me”.

“My English teacher made us write thousands of worksheets. You always have to write something… I hate writing”.

“Some days I could right no problem. Most days it was a struggle to write, but I had to. Even if you just fill the page with "blah-blah-blah”.

In some other cases you only get a nice set of sounds or noises like “bah”, “aw”, “humph”, “phew”…  (I cannot translate the “other” words students use to express their feelings about writing!).

Learning how to write in English, especially in upper primary and secondary levels, is one of the most frustrating and annoying task for most students.

It requires knowledge about different topics and about different types of texts. It also demands creativity and organization of the content. The students who lack these basic writing qualities encounter many problems while presenting an essay.

And what’s more, many students do not have good control over their own speech and language. They make lot of errors in grammar, usage, punctuations and spelling even in their mother tongue. This makes writing tasks boring and lethargic!

We as teachers have the idea of examining the writing aspect because we are trying to promote something and get traffic to. Since the students clearly hate writing I don't see much point in trying to convince them to change their mind on that.

However, I do think that they should learn to write something.

The question is: Is there anything that will make them feel writing is something interesting?

Of course! They like to write about their things, their routines, sports, hobbies, likes and so on. But the important point to remember is that the writing exercises we design should be to develop the basic habit, not to create stellar content.

We have to look for alternatives. We have to use prompts!

And here there is one: Designing our own t-shirts.

At the beginning of the school year, still summer, still hot, everybody is wearing t-shirts. And almost every single t-shirt has got a message written in English. Some are just words, some other short statements or questions, feelings, suggestions… Some, of course, are bad grammar constructions, but even with these you can take benefit of them to do some correction activity.

I proposed to my students of grade 5 (10-11 year olds) to design their own t-shirt. I provide them with a large photocopy with the silouette of a T-shirt (DIN A-3) and I suggest them to follow these instructions.

  • Observe different T-shirts: messages, colours, drawings, size,…
  • Think about something you want to express with your new T-shirt as if it was a real one. Make a draft, check for spelling in the dictionary (paper dictionaries or and correct the grammar with the help of the teacher. I help them with some scaffolding, especially when they want to express complicate messages.
  • Draw, write and colour the T-shirt.
  • When they finish, they have to write a short description of their own T-shirt to be presented (orally) in front of the class. I plan different levels of description according to different learning rhythms.
  • Of course this is an activity that you can easily adapt for primary or secondary levels.
But, better to see the final results. I scanned the T-shirts in .jpg and the students made a word document with the picture and the description, in order to make a short magazine and post it in the school blog. Have a look and imagine what can you do with it!

Open publication - Free publishing - More efl
I will be pleased to know any other writing prompts for writing in upper primary. let's share!


  1. Hi Enric,
    I met you two years ago in the Centre de Recursos de Vic in the course L'ensenyament de l'anglès a Infantil i Primària. I enjoy this idea because I thought about it at the final of the last school year. But I wanted to do on a real T-shirt with special paints becames only a project. Now, I'm going to intent to do as you explain. Thanks a lot and best regards,
    Rosa Maria Boeck (Tona)

  2. Thank you Rosa Maria for your kind post. Of course, if you do it in a real T-shirt, this will be a great and succesful experience for your students. They will enjoy very much wearing their own T-shirts!