Creative ESOL Conference

On 29th March EFA London ran a workshop at Rewrite’s Creative ESOL conference in South London.

The conference brought together ESOL practicioners from across the country who were either using, or were interested in using, the arts to work with migrants and refugees, particularly in English language teaching. The conference was organised by Rewrite (, who teach English to migrant teenagers using creative activities like drama games and crafts.

EFA London had been invited to run a workshop, but we also got the chance to attend other practitioners’ sessions, all of which were valuable learning experiences. Moving Words showed us ways to teach and revise vocabulary using group movement. Embodying language or linking it to a movement seems to make it more memorable. The introduction to Cardboard Citizen’s forum theatre work with ESOL learners was also of particular interest to us as we have been using forum theatre with community organising techniques in Wandsworth. One thing I will take away from this session is the importance of being given the opportunity (and the tools) to tell your own story. “We are all storytellers” said the workshop leader. “It’s in our DNA”. From a community organising perspective, discussing issues and then focusing on stories is a great way to narrow broad problems down into specific situations that we, as individuals, feel capable of changing.


EFA London’s workshop at the conference focused on the first stage of our participatory approach – building class community. It’s essential to develop trust within a group and get to know each other before expecting students to take risks with their language or action outside the classroom.

We got the conference attendants on their feet and had fun dividing ourselves into groups according to various categories, starting very visual  (type of shoe) and then moving on to pets, language and finally, to hobbies – a category which was suggested by an attendant. Other suggestions included much riskier categories like ‘political persuasions’ and ‘religion’. It would have been interesting to try out some of these riskier categories if we’d had time and explore how people felt about defining and declaring their beliefs in this semi-public space.

We then got participants to draw themselves an ‘identity pizza’ and share this with a partner. We explained that we often follow up this task by talking to the group about the (sometimes unexpected) things we have in common. However, we also use this activity to simulatenously draw attention to, and celebrate, the diversity within our classroom. We’d made it explicit at the start of our workshop that we are an unashamedly political organisation, in that we believe all education is ‘small-p’ political. How and what you teach enforces certain values and norms, even if you think it is neutral. Supposed ‘neutrality’ tends to uphold the status quo. The identity pizza sends a message that we wish to start our classes by honouring everyone in the room as individuals and that we believe we should strive for mutual understanding of each other’s multiple and various identities. At the end of our session we were gratified that one of the conference attendants expressed how refreshing she found it to hear an organisation define themselves as political.