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How to Teach the Head and the Heart with a Hands-On Activity

Spanish and ESL Sube Kits - How to Teach the head and the Heart with Hands-On Activity

Humanistic Imagination in the Classroom

I discovered a fascinating article called Humanistic Imagination: Soul Food for the Language Class by Dr. Gertrude Moskowitz.

Through research and storytelling, she shows that when we are given the chance to draw on imagination, we can stretch, grow, open up, and astonish ourselves. For example, Moskowitz describes how her Asian students were able to push past their traditional roles using drama techniques and how her 15-year-old English student, who could neither read or write, was empowered when his ability to draw was acknowledged and nurtured in a classroom activity.

The article provides a wealth of tips and classroom activities to trigger the imagination of our students, as well as our own imagination as teachers. But the article gets really interesting when she brings in the topic of using "humanistic techniques" in second-language teaching.

The real purpose of humanistic education, Moskowitz explains, is personal growth: becoming the best person we can be, developing a positive self-image, becoming aware of our feelings, discovering our true selves, and unearthing what she ultimately calls "food for the soul."

At its best, the humanist approach to education encourages both the cognitive (i.e., rational or intellectual) ways of knowing as well as the affective (that is, emotional or intuitive) ways of knowing.


By combining content (i.e., subject matter) with the personal feelings and experiences of the student, education engages the whole person and not just the intellect.


The article concludes that when these two areas--the head and the heart--unite in classroom activities they not only provide powerful avenues for teaching, more importantly they satisfy the deeply felt human needs to understand and be understood. In Moskowitz's words, "You have a potent package of appeal!" I agree! The article is packed with research and carefully articulated thoughts and experiences as well as practical tips for the classroom. Here's one of the activities from this fascinating article by Gertrude Moskowitz.


Sculpture in Feelings

Tell the students that there are many ways we can express ourselves and our feelings and that today they'll experience a new and very different way.

  1. Pass out a piece of clay or play dough to each student.
  2. Ask the students to close their eyes and mold their clay into a round ball.
  3. As they mold the clay, tell them, "I'm going to read you a list of feeling words. While I'm reading, I want you to start molding your clay, without opening your eyes, into whatever shape the words lead you."
  4. Select some positive feelings and read the list slowly at least twice. For example: confident, free, daring, peaceful, optimistic, excited, loved, curious, joyful.
    SSL & ESL Tip: For language students, this is a great TPR activity. Simply read your list in the target language. For example for SSL: "seguro, libre, fantastico, feliz..."
  5. Tell the students to choose one word that appeals to them and let their hands create the shape that comes to them. 
  6. Read the list through two more times to give them time to sculpt.
  7. When the students have finished, divide them into groups to discuss their creations or have them share with the whole class.
  8. A great way to do this that gets your students up and moving is to display their creation like an "exhibit" (one per desk) and have them walk around the room trying to guess each others imagined word or feeling.
  9. After they've guessed, have the class explain how they came to their conclusions.
  10. Then have the sculptors themselves share about the significance of their work.
  11. After viewing, have the students sit back down and then discuss as a class how the positive feeling words affected them, how it affected their sculptures, and what it was like evaluating other people's work as well as explaining their own.


The discussion and unusual depiction of feelings is the humanistic focus. The pieces of sculpture, clearly from the imagination, can be very fascinating to see and tend to induce surprise in what one can create with the eyes closed.

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