Can We Apply Austin’s Butterfly to Adult Learners?

During a lovely share sesh with Mrs. Becky Carlzon, she said,

“Oh and have you seen Austin’s Butterfly?”

My response: “Not yet, is it on Netflix? (silly me!)

She laughed and sent me the link. Since then I have watched it a total of 4 times in less than 24 hours. I do understand that I have a tendency to get more excited about things than most. It is both my vice and virture. Some people define this as obsessive. I prefer to think of it as enthusiastic but I digress.

If you aren’t already acquainted with Expeditionary Learning, I highly recommend you check it out. It is a super-powered learning approach that, in my humble opinion, can be easily integrated to learning journeys of all kinds.

After the second time of watching the video, my light bulb began to flicker and by the third time, I had a rough idea of how I could apply this with my International exam courses.  I wasted no time getting to work on a rough draft of a follow up lesson plan to Growing Self-Confidence.

It was a pretty paramount task. I had 4 different pieces to a puzzle but I wasn’t quite sure which piece to lay down first and how to weave them all together without the seams being too terribly obvious.

The tasks I wanted to work on:

  • Writing thesis statements and 3 supporting points in 3 minutes flat
  • Using these to prepare a 40- 45 second speech
  • Working as a group to both critique and give specific feedback in order to prepare a second and third draft.
  • Splitscreening: noticing, perseverence and yes, a growth in confidence.

What I did

I opened the class with an icebreaking discussion about the current affairs on both a local and international level. We expanded our vocabulary by asking whether or not there were other ways of referring to those same concepts. For example, “problems with the weater” could also be referred to as “climate change” and another more specific problem could be “global warming.”

Then, implementing step 2 of our manifesto (Forming opinions – oral drills – and the art of lying) I made two sets of cards.

esl activities for adult power learners


Each card in the Current Local or World Issues pile had a questions like, “Should we use drones to pollinate our crops? Why or why not?” or “Should the government do something to reduce the use of plastic? Why or why not?”

The cards in the Pile of Possible Perspectives were labled with people like: a 5 year old girl, a 25 year old recently graduated ecologist, a 40 year old stock broker etc.

The idea was for them to choose one card from each pile to develop a thesis statement with three supporting points based on the presumed point of view of the person described on their perspective card. I gave them 3 mintes to do this then asked them to orally present what they wrote as if it were their own opinion.

After each person we held a quick feedback session based on giving specific suggestions of how to create a better second draft. The feedback was amazing. They said things like: “I think you should try to make it a bit longer,” or “if you add some transitional phrases between ideas it would be clearer.” I did chime in to help guide them a bit as this was the first time we had held a critique session.

After everyone had presented and received their feedback, we went back to the drawing board. I gave them another 3 minutes to make any necessary changes and then we did the whole process again.

After the third draft their thesis’ and supporting points as well as spoken presentations had become 10 times more sophisticated. I could hardly contain my enthusiasm and began jumping and clapping like a highschool cheerleader. (seriously)

And that wasn’t even the best part. Wait for it…

Closing the class, I assigned a 4th draft for homework with an optional double jeopardy challenge of developing the outline into an entire essay. After doing so, they asked me if we could start every class with this exercise so that, in time, through perseverance, it will become second nature!

Self Assessment

I think that the perspective cards were especially important to the activity. In adding a different point of view, they didn’t have to “think” or “justify” their own opinions. This took some of the pressure off liberating the creative juices.

Next time I will not chime in on the feedback part of the class. It is important that they work together as team without my intervening.

Please feel free to use this lesson plan and adapt it accordingly. If you do, I hope you will share your thoughts and outcomes with me!


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