Makerspace on the Road: Beginning English and Origami

When I was younger, I think around elementary school, my friends and I would make these origami things for our fingers – we called them fortune tellers. The outsides usually had colors, like red, and you would open and close your fingers based on the number of letters there were in the word your partner chose (so for red, it was 3 – open, close, open). Then, on the insides, there were numbers, and you would open-close-open however many times the number told you to. Finally, the other person would choose a number and you opened it up to reveal a “fortune” – like “You will ace your next math test.” It was SO fun, and for whatever reason, 20ish years later, I still remember how to do them.

All of this to say, I was talking with the teacher with the Beginning English class (that we collaborated on this and this activity together) and for our monthly makerspace activity, she wanted to do something different. I suggested origami since it would require listening and following directions. We hadn’t done origami with her students yet, and she thought it was a great idea! We began brainstorming and here’s what we decided to do:

1) Outside: names of colors

2) Insides: basic sight words students still struggle recognizing, saying, and/or spelling (ranging in letters from 1-7)

3) Inside opening flaps: questions about themselves and their home countries (this was part of a project they were just beginning, so it helped them to think through what they were going to say later on in that project).


To set up the activity, I showed students an example I made earlier in the day (above) to give them a visual for what they would be making. A few students already knew how to make them! The Beginning English teacher talked with students and used the whiteboard to explain what a fortune teller was, using the roots of the words and associating it with other familiar words.

I brought origami paper with me and students selected the color they wanted to use. The teacher did a mini vocab lesson with them about various words they would need when following directions, such as point, fold, flip, edge, side, and open, having students demonstrate with an example what each of those words looked like.

Then, with the document camera, I showed students step by step how to create the fortune teller, giving them time to complete each step before going onto the next task. Students were really engaged and checking in with the others in their group to make sure they did it correctly.

Still using the document camera, I explained how to fill out the words on their fortune teller. The paper we used was somewhat small, so students weren’t able to write the questions on the inside flaps. Instead, the teacher wrote the questions on the board and students wrote #1, #2, etc so when their partner chose a number, they read the question off the board. 

And they were off! Students worked with partners in their groups to play with their “fortune tellers” – it was so much fun! See below for some photos and videos.

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Two things I absolutely loved about this activity: First, this activity hit every standard for students learning English: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Students were reading when copying the words onto their origami and reading the questions off the board when playing with their partner. Students used their writing/spelling skills when creating their origami, and students practiced their speaking when choosing parts from the fortune teller and when asking and answering the questions in the inside flap. Finally, the listening was constant: listening to the directions in creating the origami, and listening to their partners when playing. 

The other thing I absolutely loved about this activity was that this is yet another valid and educational way to incorporate the makerspace (in this case, origami) into learning going on in the classroom. Many of these students has never used origami paper before (that’s access!) and instead of learning off of a worksheet or textbook, students created something and then got to use it in a fun way to interact with classmates and practice skills they struggle with. This is a big deal!!

I think this would also be fun with another language class, such as Spanish, French, etc., for the same reasons. Who would have thought something I did for fun with my friends in elementary school would come in handy as a librarian to use as a collaboration opportunity to use our makerspace?!? And this is a perfect activity to illustrate that you don’t necessarily need a physical space set aside as a makerspace to do maker activities. On this particular day, my library was set up for end-of-year testing, so I collaborated on this maker lesson in a classroom.

Friends, as librarians, part of our purpose is to enhance the learning going on in our school. Whether it be resources, collaboration, activities, whatever. This activity helped further the learning of some of the neediest students in my school. The resource in this case just happened to be origami paper instead of websites, ebooks, or print books. 

ALL students deserve to have access to maker activities, from students who have the same materials at home to those students who have never seen/used these materials before. These activities with Beginning English classes expose them to new materials, new ways to interact with their peers, and potentially, new interests and talents. We are enriching their lives as humans with maker activities like origami, and giving them a positive experience at school and with a new language.

Much like collaborating on research projects for core content, working together on innovative learning activities like this are exactly why I love being a librarian. For me, it’s an easy “Yes! How can I help?”

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