The Paper Crane (an exercise in circumlocution)

The Paper Crane (an exercise in circumlocution)

Making a Paper Crane was probably the first ESL Game (ish) activities I learned as a new teacher living in Japan, and it hasn't let me down yet.

This activity is awesome for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it really causes students to think about what they are saying and find ways to describe things that they aren't used to speaking about.

This activity is also highly adaptable. You can use it in adult man-to-man lessons, small groups of high school students, or with large classes of elementary students.

You just have to be able to gauge your students and make sure the language you're asking for is level appropriate.

The Details About The Paper Crane

This game requires NO PREPARATION. It's an awesome back-up plan to always have in your back pocket.

The only materials you'll need are a few pieces of paper and a pair of scissors.

This game is highly adaptable but works easiest with higher level students.

A game can last between 10-30 minutes. The length of the activity is entirely based on how hard you make it for the students.

How To Play

  1. To teach this exercise, I find it works best to ask the entire class to each make a crane. This just helps them remember the process. It also kind of puts students on the hook so that they have to speak. They've shown you that they know how to perform the objective, so they won't be able to back out at a later point.

  2. Then, play stupid (this generally isn't very hard for me). Say you don't know how to make a crane (or airplane, make coffee, etc.) and ask your students how to do it. They will instinctively try to pick up the paper to show you.

  3. Simply smile and inform them that they are not allowed to use their hands. Next, they all gasp in horror when they realize their lesson just got a lot harder.

  4. When they try to give you directions, it will be very difficult at first. Depending on your teaching style, your student's ability and how much time you have, you adjust how much you're willing to help them. For example, if a student tells you to “fold the paper” there is many ways you can fold it. You can fold it in half-length ways, across the middle, make a triangle, etc.

  5. It's important to let your class struggle a little. If they have difficulty at first, the payoff of completing the activity will increase the level of confidence they have in their own English ability by the end of the activity. It's essential you don't let your students struggle too much. If they think it's impossible, your class will stop paying attention.

  6. At this point, I will usually take a step back and offer the class a few extra words that might help them perform the task. e.g. fold, crease, turn over, repeat, etc. I like to keep the list short just so that they still have searched for the right words.

  7. This ESL game can be as short or as long as you want to make it. If your students are really advanced, don't give them any vocabulary clues. If their lower level students work with them and act like you did it together. Either way, when students finish this activity, they always have a real sense of accomplishment. In reality, I've done this about 20 times already, and I still can't figure how to make a paper crane.

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