Crafts are an incredible way to teach language through creation.
No matter your students’ ability level, a craft activity offers the perfect way to get away from chalk-and-talk and endless worksheets.
They’ll get every student engaged and focused, while keeping your class bright and interesting.
Even better, there are crafts that are so simple to make, they require just one item (which I’m absolutely sure you can get your hands on): A piece of paper.
So let’s take a look at why you have every reason to work them into your next lesson plan!
Why Paper Crafts Are Ideal for the ESL Classroom
Here’s why these four paper crafts are perfect activities for your ESL classroom:
- You only need a piece of paper. Some crafts require really specific materials that could be impossible to acquire on your budget. These craft activities, however, only require a standard piece of paper, making them possible for nearly every ESL class.
- They’re incredibly simple to make. These crafts are so easy that any age level or ability can get involved and enjoy them—no matter students’ previous “crafting” experience.
- You can easily demonstrate each. Slowly giving verbal instructions while you perform the step in front of your class will have students listening and understanding in English—not begging for a translation.
- They can be used for language practice. Not only is the process of making each of these crafts a language workout in itself for your students, but each of the finished products can actually be used for an entirely different language exercise!
4 ESL Craft Activities That Can Be Done with a Single Piece of Paper
1. Hand Puppet
ESL students are often a little shy to speak out loud, and using puppets can help with this. The fun of sitting together working on creating their puppets and talking about it is also a great opportunity for language practice.
How to make folded paper hand puppet
Each puppet can be made with a single piece of printing paper. You can even use recycled paper that has printing on one side. The puppet can also be successfully created with paper (or thin card) of different sizes, colors and textures. The final product can also be varied with all kinds of decorations.
Here’s how to fold the puppet:
1. Fold the piece of paper into thirds like a hot dog (the long way). (If using recycled paper, fold the printed side to the inside.)
2. Then, fold the long, smooth side (no edge) in half like a hamburger, bringing the two far ends together.
3. Now fold your two short edges back to the middle fold, which will create three total folds between four squares, as pictured below.
4. Put your fingers in one open end and your thumb in the other to operate the puppet.
5. Decorate the puppet with tongue and/or teeth in the middle opening, and eyes, eyebrows, ears, nostrils etc. on the top section above the fingers, with possibly a beard, tie or scarf in the section under the thumb.
Lesson ideas for using hand puppets
After the talkative fun of creating these puppets and deciding how to decorate each one, then it’s time to pair or group students to use them.
Puppets can be used for practicing conversations and for telling stories. With this particularly simple-to-make puppet, each student could easily have two, one on each hand, and use interesting voices to demonstrate a whole story dialogue by themselves, or show a short drama that involves other students and their puppets.
Groups or pairs can practice together first, and then get up in front of the class to show off their particular puppet sequence.
You or your students could even record the puppet shows on a device, and then play it again later for continued learning.
2. Pop-up Card
There are lots of reasons to give someone a greetings card—birthday, anniversary, thank you, friendship, bon voyage, welcome, house warming… the list is limited only by imagination.
The fun part of any card you receive is when you open it up to find what’s inside: a clever comment, a nice expression, some music playing, a gift or—in this case—something that pops out and surprises you!
How to make a pop-up card
A piece of regular printing paper is great for this activity, though colored paper, thin card and other types and sizes of paper are fine to use.
1. Fold the piece of paper in half hamburger style, and then in half again to make the basic card shape. Make a note of which is the inside and which is the outside of the card by marking lightly with a pencil.
2. Decide on your design. Lightly draw what you are hoping to make “pop” in the inside section.
3. To make the pop-ups, open the card completely and refold it the other way, longways. The inside fold which was a valley fold will now be a mountain fold.
4. The shapes that you can make “pop” need to be symmetrical, attached to both sides, and not so big as to stick out of the edges of the card when it is closed. Nevertheless, with a little practice they can be quite intricate.
5. After cutting the edge of the pop-up shape, fold the shape back and forth carefully creasing the folds.
6. Unfold the card, and fold it back the original way with the pop-up shape inside. You may need to pull on the shape a little to make sure it folds the right way the first time.
7. Color and decorate your card.
Here are some simple shapes you can cut to make the pop-up cards:
- A box or gift: With the card folded ready for cutting, cut two straight cuts, equal length, at right angles to the fold. Fold the shape back and forth to make a square or rectangle. This can be decorated to become a box, gift or something else square in your design.
- A heart shape: With the card folded ready for cutting, cut an upward curve in the top half of your fold. Then make an angled fold (like a triangle with a curvy top) from the inland end of your cut to low down on the main fold. Fold it back and forth several times. This will pop-up a heart shape when the card is opened.
- A Bird or Animal: With the card folded ready for cutting, make a single straight cut into the fold near the middle, to make a triangle. You’ll do this by folding each side of the cut down at a 45 degree angle away from the main fold, as seen in the first image below. Fold them back and forth several times.When you fold the card back to the original, this can be a beak or mouth. Depending on the angles of the triangle folds, it will depict a different animal, character or emotion. Decorate the rest of the inside of the card to suit your idea.
If you search for something like “Pop-up card,” you will find lots of very intricate patterns and ideas. What is suggested here are the very simplest ideas, which are achievable by pretty much every student (and teacher!) regardless of age or dexterity.
Lesson ideas for pop-up cards
There are plenty of language practice ESL activities that can be linked to this craft work:
- Your students could create greetings cards for each other (let them take names out of a hat so no one is left out). They can practice appropriate words, expressions and greetings that are relevant to a particular season or special day.
- Students could also make cards to take home for family and friends.
- You could decorate the the classroom with finished pop-up cards for the students to chat about, enjoy and show to their friends.
- When the cards are finished, students could stand up and show the class their card, and talk about how they made it.
3. Little Book
The standard mini-book is made from a single sheet of printing paper, folded and with one scissored cut. The final book has six tiny pages inside, plus a front and back cover.
How to make a little book
Here’s how to make turn a piece of printing paper into a little book. Again, you can even use recycled paper with writing on one side. (Here’s a silent video that clearly shows how to make this book, to accompany the written instructions below.)
1. Hold the paper in the portrait position, then bring the top edge down to the bottom to fold it in half. If you’re using recycled paper, make sure the printed side is now inside. Carefully crease the fold.
2. Bring the two side edges together to fold it in half again, and crease the fold carefully.
3. Fold the paper in half a third time, and crease the fold. This is how big the book will eventually be.
4. Unfold back to the first fold.
5. Take your scissors and make a small cut into the center of the folded edge, following the crease of the fold line to the halfway mark. (Stop at the other creased fold line, so the length of your cut is equal to the width of one mini-book page.) Again, make sure that the printed side is still inside. If you’re using fresh paper, make sure the same side is inside as when you made the first fold.
6. Open the paper completely and fold in half the other way—longways—folding along the cut. (Again, the printed side on recycled paper should be inside.) You should now be looking at a horizontal strip, with four boxes sectioned from three folds (0:44 in the video).
7. Holding the folded paper at the two ends in your two hands, push your hands together. The cut should open up as the middle folds are pushed outwards front and back. You should end up with four little pages pointing outwards like a star. (Again, look at the video if this is not too obvious.)
8. Carefully fold the pages around to form the book.
9. Put a title and decoration on the front, and add pictures and/or words (or glue items) into inside pages.
Lesson ideas for a little book
There’s just something about handling the little book that’s appealing to almost all students, so the making of it—along with chatter in English as they work, and understanding instructions in English as it’s demonstrated—can be an end in itself. However, obviously there are many other ways to use the book as a tool:
- Use the little book as a warm-up for 3-minute talks. Each student can make a little book and make notes inside—words and/or pictures—and then use it as a reminder when they stand up to give a short talk. Holding up the little book not only helps them remember what they were going to say, but also takes the pressure off, as the audience looks at the book instead of them.
- Make little books, write and illustrate a small story inside, and then share in groups or with a partner.
- After telling the students a story, let them re-tell it in a little book.
- Students can list new vocabulary in a little book. They could make several books for different kinds of words or phrases.
- Young students can cut out pictures and stick them into a little book with notes.
Adapting little book into pop-up book
Once you and your students have mastered the art of pop-ups from the pop-up card, it only takes a little extra cleverness to use the same process in the pages of the little book.
Make sure you have an idea of what shapes you would like to have popping out of which pages (and of course it’s not necessary to have one on every page).
When you have completed a little book:
1. With a pencil, lightly mark the cover and back pages, and number the internal pages so that you can easily put it back together after it’s opened out and folded back to cut the pop-outs.
2. Carefully open out the little book. Taking the internal valley folds (where you want to cut a pop-up shape), fold them the other way as mountain folds.
3. Remembering which way is “up,” and where the top and bottom of the page is, make cuts (as above with the pop-up card), and crease-fold the shape back and forth a couple of times.
4. Re-fold the little book, and give the pop-up shape a little pull to make sure it folds out the right way when the page is opened.
5. Color, decorate and add words.
4. Box with Fitted Lid
There is something about a neat little box that is almost irresistible. This particular little box has a perfectly fitting lid, and everyone will be just dying to take it off and peek inside.
It’s best when you make it with a greetings card—maybe one you received for a birthday or other occasion. (You could ask students to bring in old cards, especially after Christmas if you’re in a country that celebrates this holiday.)
The card is cut into two pieces and the front of the card makes the lid, the back of the card becomes the box. But you can also make it with thin card or paper, large or small, rectangular or square.
It can, of course, also be made using a standard sheet of printing paper, cut into half—one piece for the lid, one for the box.
How to make the box
If you are using a greeting card, use the back part for the box. To make the box:
1. Find the center of the rectangular piece. You can use a ruler or any straight edge to draw a light line across each diagonal in order to find the center. (Where the two diagonals intersect is your center.) Note: Don’t fold the card to find the center, as this would spoil the box.
2. Fold the two long sides in to the center, make a neat crease, and then fold them out again.
3. Fold the two short sides in to the center, make a crease, and then open them again.
4. Hold the card in “landscape position” and make a small cut along the horizontal fold of each little rectangle, as pictured below (four horizontal cuts in total).
5. With the inside of the card upwards, tuck the four little cut corner flaps inside the two shorter ends, and fold the protruding end piece over to hold it in place.
Depending on the quality of the paper or card, this may be sufficient to hold it in place, or you could use a little piece of sticky tape or a staple.
How to make the lid of the box
The lid is exactly the same as the box, except it needs to be the tiniest bit longer and wider. Following step 3, below, also means that the lid doesn’t completely cover the box all the way to the ground, and makes it easier to lift the lid off.
If you’re using the front of a greeting card, it will already be pretty. But if you’re using plain paper, you may wish to decorate it before folding. Or, you can always open it up to decorate and then refold it, or easily add stick-on decorations when it’s finished.
1. Using the front part of the greeting card, or the other half of the card/paper, find the center of the card (with a pencil mark, not by folding it).
2. Because you want the lid to be very slightly larger than the box, fold the four edges to the middle as before, but not quite to the center. Leave a gap of maybe 0.1″.
3. Cut a small sliver (maybe 0.1″) off each of the long sides of the card. (This is so that the lid doesn’t completely overwhelm the box, making it easier to remove.)
4. Continue as in step 3 and step 4 above.
5. Fit the lid over the box. If you like, decorate the top of the box by sticking on shapes, glitter, etc.
Lesson ideas for the paper box
Before making the box, you and your class could have a useful discussion about shapes and colors, materials to use, instructions for making—all great vocabulary to learn. Then when you get to the demonstration, you can do it all in English rather than needing translation.
The box is cute and delightful; all students seem to enjoy it just for its own sake. After making it, they might like to take it home and use it in any way. Or, you could:
- Have each student make a box to give as a gift or containing a gift (or even just a kind message) for another student. Draw names out of a hat to make sure no one gets left out.
- Use the box to collect vocabulary notes. Students could write new nouns/adjectives/verbs/etc. on a small piece of paper and collect them in the box. Every lesson, they could go through the papers in the box and practice the words. Students could color-code their papers according to type of word.
- Keep the box on their desk to collect tokens given by you for good work. Open the box and count tokens at the end of the day/week.
Whether these language activities work for you or not, just the fun of making crafts together will improve the tone of your classroom, and the engagement of your students.
Once you’ve tried one or more of these, there’s no reason why you couldn’t repeat the activity again later maybe using different materials or another follow-up activity. Enjoy!