Found Objects: How Picasso's bull's head can be used in the ELT classroom

Luke Meddings explores ways to build memorable lessons and lesson sequences using non-‘teaching’ stimulus that is readily available to teachers and learners in the UK and elsewhere. September 2012, London.

The idea of found objects derives from taking things designed for another purpose and turning them into art: Picasso’s bull’s head made from bicycle parts is a famous example. The principle for teaching is the same: find something interesting and use it as stimulus for a lesson. 

Although it is possible to generate interaction merely by displaying a ‘found object’, we also need to develop lesson frameworks and teaching strategies which help us to shape this into a learning experience. 

In this workshop Luke Meddings explores ways to build memorable lessons and lesson sequences using non-‘teaching’ stimulus that is readily available to teachers and learners in the UK and elsewhere. As we do this, we'll look at some key questions, including:

  • Is there a difference between 'stimulus' and 'materials' in the classroom?
  • How much structure should we provide - and how do we find a balance between direction and support?  
  • What are the pros and cons of verbal and non-verbal stimulus?
  • How can learners be encouraged to source their own objects?
  • How can found objects be used to inspire project work?

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Submitted by ellenpd on Fri, 09/28/2012 - 07:37




Luke Meddings’ seminar outlined how objects might best be harnessed to aid classroom learning in relation to a ‘Teaching Unplugged’ ethos. Pinning his delivery to a mnemonic, Luke proceeded to work through the words ‘FOUND OBJECTS’.


Luke encouraged tutors to keep their eyes open. Teachers are never off duty and should perpetually scan the environments they inhabit for potential classroom stimulus. 

Questioning the merits of tutors amassing ‘resource banks’, Luke argued that material works best when it is fresh to the teacher, helping ensure objects are presented to classes with an enthusiasm that will hopefully be mirrored. When tutors are engaged, learners will be engaged.


Luke defined an ‘object’ as anything that is tangible, with the additional possibility of it being digital media. 


Objects that teachers use could be everyday items found around the home, items that take on a different property and become less ordinary in a classroom context. Alternatively, they may be wholly unusual. 


Whilst stimulus could be selected to support syllabuses and coursebooks, (serving as connectors in a bottom-up approach to teaching and learning), tutors may alternatively elect to allow their students to independently build narratives around the object, the object itself acting as a springboard. In either case, objects used as stimulus provide a foothold for the learner from which they can scale the broader aims of the session.


Teachers will always need to direct proceedings to some extent. Considerations regarding how the use of the stimulus will influence the lesson’s flow and the benefits of a pair work/group work approach are important. Luke stated that the more tutors open up discussions, the more fruitful they will be and urged teachers to allow time for students to be creative.


Coursebooks, Luke argued, are often overladen with text, preventing learners from gaining any sense of ownership in respect of the material. Inviting students to bring their own objects into class is a highly effective way of countering this.

B=Bull’s Head

Picasso’s ‘Bull’s Head’ was created by using two different parts from a bicycle. Tutors should be similarly experimental with the objects they use and look for alternative meaning. 


Illustrating the point, Luke displayed a photograph he had taken, coupling it with a picture of the view he got by spinning the camera 180°. The contrast was marked. Further pictures of discarded floppy disks by a litter bin and an open suitcase full of books were superb examples of images capable of generating much discussion.


Inviting students to take photos on their mobile phones that they could share in class provides an outlet for their creative expression and an opportunity for them to engage more directly with their learning.


Providing students space to explore their own creativity is an important way of fostering a collaborative teaching and learning experience. 


Objects have a visual power. Tutors should, Luke contended, also channel their kinesthetic properties within the classroom.


Drawing to a close, Luke encouraged teachers to think of stimulus as something that is an aid to get learners talking, not something that has to be, in and of itself, loaded with content.

Final Thoughts

People, Luke reasoned, already know how to think in a language. Objects act as a classroom stimulus to get their creative juices flowing and talk in a language.

Sponsored by the British Council

Submitted by rimag on Sun, 09/30/2012 - 19:15


Very interesting and very very inspiring! Took a decorative object with me to class today:  a miniature Indian temple. The stimulus worked wonders with my students though I felt  a little like an Indian snake charmer; I don't know why :-) but perhaps because I succeeded to make students - through the use of many word associations - come out with the word gendercide: the main theme in the text they studied today.

Thank you very much Mr Meddings

This is is very interesting seminar and I have derived 2 activities through the topics raised. I have given some phrases (as per their interest and liking) to students and asked them to describe same in one two and five words secondly gave a topic and ask them as what do they think about it with some hints questions found remarkable response in their spoken. Would if someone have a customized material on spoken and soft skills.B

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