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7 ways to bring Creative Writing into the #EFL classroom

shutterstock_336098690Creative writing can add value to your classroom by taking students out of the ordinary structure of grammar books and allowing them more freedom to practice what they have learned in a creative way. It can also be very entertaining for the teacher, as they get to exercise their creative muscles with some fun and entertaining classroom ideas.

Here are 7 ways to bring creative writing to your classroom from teachers all over the world:

1. Bag of Props 

Stefan Chiarantano – Stefan has taught English in Taiwan, Japan and China for several years and in his hometown of Toronto, Canada.

To make learning English fun for my students I would bring in a bag of props that I could incorporate into my lessons. My bag of tricks included CDs of children’s songs, chants and pop music. I would use a chant with Total Physical Response (TPR) to begin a class with young learners or a pop song with adolescent junior high school students as a means to teach idioms, vocabulary or grammar. My bag also included puppets, which allowed me to teach target language such as greetings by acting out a dialogue skit with the puppets. I varied my voice for the puppets and soon discovered that it had introduced another native speaker in the classroom.. . It included stuffed animals, which I used to teach prepositions of place. There were coloured plastic balls to teach colours but which I also used in playful activities. . As silly as it sounds, I would be lost without my bag of tricks. It has infused creativity into the way I teach but more importantly it has made learning English an enjoyable experience for my students. 

2. A Sense of Adventure

Ezekiel Yerimoh Ezekiel is a Certified Supply Chain Officer and the CEO of Tonell & Cole. He is also the National Coordinator of Quizzing Nigeria (a member of the International Quizzing Association – IQA) and the President of Knowledgefield International. 

Creative writing can bring a spirit of adventure into the classroom. Thinking about an unusual, exciting and dangerous experience or event is not only a great way to widen the horizons of students but also to give them great exposure to new vocabulary. Moreover, students’ talents, gifts, skills, environment, background and personality will play a major role in its ability to function effectively in creative writing. Basically, students should be well trained to undertake the task of creative writing.

A good example of an unusual event is for one to imagine the sunlight when it is supposed to be dark or a wild animal that speaks like a human being. Students can become more engaged if they use their personality traits and experiences to come up with their own unusual events and then perform free writing based on the event, letting their stories becomes more and more unusual.

3. Debates and Quotes

Tatyana Fedosova  – Tatyana has a PhD in English Philology, and is Professor of English at the Department of German Philology of Gorno-Altaisk State University, Altai, Siberia, Russia.

My favorite written task for intermediate-level students is to write an expert viewpoint on a challenging real-life situation or problem for a column in a magazine, for example, how to behave in a new school. I like to provide students with a quotation of a famous person on some hot topic and have them write a short argumentative passage on it. I also have my students debate a proposed amendment to the constitution by writing a speech for the TV debates or write the presidential pledge for the elections. I find it useful to ask students to make up an ending to a story, to complete the beginning of a sentence, or to write a report about an exotic place that they visited or a cultural/sporting event that took place in their region. These tasks help to reinforce key concepts under study, develop critical-thinking, cognitive, and creative skills and have practical applications as well. 

4. Mad-Libs

Peter Winthrop – Peter has been teaching kindergarten and primary school students in Shanghai, China since 2009. In addition to teaching he also assists in teacher training and mentoring.

Bringing creative writing into the classroom can be difficult, most textbooks do not focus on that part of learning another language. I like to start with Mad-libs, funny word substitutions. This allows students to have fun with the language and slips in a lesson on the importance of word choice. My big tip is to celebrate originality and learning language learned outside the classroom as much as using correct grammar. We want to show students they can use the language they have learned and can make their own sentences. They don’t just have to rely on the sentence patterns they drill in class.

I always base the Madlibs on whatever the lessons content is, so even while being silly we are practicing and using the lessons language. An example would be:

“Tim is going to the ___ because he wants to eat ___ .”  

Student One will pick the location, say library, then Student Two pick the object, say books. That gives us the sentence:

 “Tim is going to the library because he wants to eat books .”

The grammar is correct, the vocabulary is in its correct place but the meaning is silly, so everyone gets a laugh.

5. Shared Writing

Amira Shouma – Amira is a certified ESL teacher in Quebec and Ontario. She is also currently an MA graduate student in Applied Linguistics at Concordia University.

I found the article “Activities for Writing Instruction” by Sharon M. Abbey a good resource for teachers in their writing classes. The author offered various activities to activate students’ sense of writing, including shared writing. With shared writing, the teacher teaches students writing by writing with them. The process of writing starts with brainstorming ideas in a shared writing session. For example, at the beginning of the session, a teacher can establish the purpose of the shared writing session with his/her students. Then, he/she brainstorms ideas with the group. Next, the teacher selects one of the ideas and invites students to develop it. At the time of composition, the teacher and students start writing together. Finally, the teacher and his/her students revise their text together. Shared writing helps students gain their confidence, build their motivation, and also enrich their ideas. 

6. Alternate Endings

Anna Klis is an experienced English teacher and has worked for several renowned language schools. She holds a master’s degree in English from the University of Wroclaw and a bachelor’s degree in Film Production from the University of Wales, Great Britain.

Students (at least intermediate level) are asked in advanced by a teacher to watch a famous/popular film (or choose a  chapter from a well-known book) and choose one important and meaningful scene. At home they prepare a short description of a continuation of the scene but the way they want it to be, so that it is completely different from the original, and they work on a new version that would possibly lead to a different ending. When working on such a piece of writing students are supposed to use newly-learned grammar and/or vocabulary structures to practice them. Then during the lesson they can guess the alternate endings or compare their versions to decide which one is the best and how it fits the original story.

7. Writing with the Senses

Rachel Playfair – Rachel is a teacher-trainer and language coach working in Barcelona, Spain.

From time to time I like to use a short writing activity as a ‘Warm-Down’ end of class activity to help balance the ‘Warm-Up’ oral activities I do. One of my favourite ones is “Respond With Your Senses”: I will give students a sensory prompt (i.e. show them a picture, play them some music, put an object in a bag that they can’t see and let them feel it, let them smell something like peppermint extract), then students do free-writing about the prompt for about 3-5 minutes, depending on their level. I can also use the prompts to preview or review classroom topics. For further creative and/or collaborative writing activities, I will then put students together into small groups to combine and develop their paragraphs, which we can then share together or put up on the classroom wall. This activity can be adapted to a wide range of levels and ages as long as you make sure they have had previous vocabulary input. 


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#IATEFL – Focusing on the Creative Self in the mixed-ability classroom

close up of colors art supplies on white background with clipping path

Erika Osvath is co-author of ‘Mixed-Ability Teaching’ from Oxford University Press’ ‘Into the Classroom’ series. Today she joins us ahead of her talk on Saturday April 16th at this year’s IATEFL conference to preview ‘Focusing on the Creative Self in the mixed-ability classroom’

As many language teachers and researchers around the world attest, the self-esteem of language learners, being so fragile, is an important aspect to consider in the mixed-ability classroom.  Students with lower language level tend to be less confident, quieter and thus attempt to engage in much fewer opportunities to work with language. Meanwhile, stronger students may feel confident that they can perform well in most tasks the teacher sets and they are also likely to be more ready to take risks when using new language. The two scenarios described above are fairly typical in the mixed-ability classroom and it is easy see how they will inevitably lead to further increase of the gap in the language knowledge and abilities of these students.

So our job is to create opportunities where we support the self-esteem of all the students while at the same time reach the desired language teaching goals.  One way of achieving this in the classroom is by setting tasks that build on self-expression through flexible frameworks that can be easily used by students of mixed language levels. Through activities that involve art, music and poetry we can help students to drawn on their own content, to focus on their creative selves primarily, allowing language to emerge as a result. These forms of expression are highly personal and unique for every student, therefore they become a lot more engaged and actively involved in the learning process. Art, music and poetry become a channel for students to express themselves in meaningful ways, and the added benefit of these forms of creative self-expression is that they bring about an audience too, having a further positive effect on how students perceive themselves in the language learning process.

So let’s look at a few examples of such tasks:

Doodle exhibition

Play some soft instrumental music in class and ask students to doodle, to draw lines and shapes that the music evokes. The only rule is that they cannot pick up their pen from the paper, but let it move as the music leads it. Then post their doodles around the room and give each student a few post-it notes. Write the following stems – or anything appropriate for the level of the students – on the board to help them comment on the doodles displayed.

This is/looks … (adjective)
I like it because, …
It’s interesting because, …
It reminds me of …
I think you may have thought of …

Students should walk around the room, look at the doodles, write one positive comment on a post-it note, and stick it on the appropriate doodle. Once someone has already commented on a doodle, they should read it and put a smiley emoticon or a tick if they agree, but they cannot add a new comment until all the doodles have one, i.e. a post-it note.
Let students walk around the room, enjoy the doodle exhibition and read each other’s comments.  If you find it appropriate, as a follow up you could also ask them to share their thoughts and reactions to the doodles in speaking in small groups too, again, using the sentence stems from the board.

Poetry

There are various ways you can ask students to write poems about their own feelings and thoughts. In my experience, students respond very well to ones which contain repetitive structures. These, of course, are ideal language practice opportunities at the same time. For example, ‘I will …, but I will not … ‘ for future promises or ‘I didn’t …, but I …’ for describing their last holiday, etc. You may also want to use a short and simple model poem for them to read and be inspired by, but make sure these are not challenging linguistically. In each case, it is crucial that students are asked to brainstorm ideas based on their personal feelings and their own experiences before they see the model poem. Otherwise, the model poem may become an obstacle for students to write their own, especially to learners who might think they have to produce something similar. For an example lesson with a model poem, see here.


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5 Ways Your Young Learners of English Will Change the World

shutterstock_247739401Kathleen Kampa and Charles Vilina have taught young learners in Asia for over 25 years. They are co-authors of Magic Time, Everybody Up, and Oxford Discover, primary ELT courses published by Oxford University Press. Their inquiry-based teaching approach supports a differentiated classroom environment that builds the 21st Century skills of critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication.

If you teach English to young learners, take a moment to consider the role you play in shaping their futures. To begin with, you are providing the building blocks of a skill that they can use meaningfully and productively throughout their lives. You are offering the opportunity for global communication, for relationships and careers that will shape who they are and what they do. Most importantly, you can help them change the world for the better.

In essence, the English language classroom exists to prepare students to communicate across cultures, across borders, across perspectives. As the world evolves and becomes even more interconnected, it is our students to whom we entrust the responsibility of building a better global society.

So how will your young learners of English change the world as adults in the future?  Here are five ways:

  1. By communicating effectively in English. Your students will have the ability to read, write, listen and speak with a strong degree of fluency. They will have the social and academic language skills necessary to consider differing points of view, and to persuade and inform others. Here are some tips on how to help your students develop good communication skills in English.
  1. By thinking critically about knowledge and information. Your students will think deeply about issues, and will connect what they learn with what they already know. They will be able to organize and prioritize the information they receive, in order to make sense of it and achieve new goals with it. How do you bring critical thinking skills into your classroom? Here is a video with some easy-to-use ideas.
  1. By thinking creatively. Your students will have the ability to take knowledge and create something completely new with it. They will connect information from various fields to arrive at solutions to old and new problems. They will personalize new knowledge, adapting it to create something that is uniquely their own. You can develop and nurture creativity in your classroom with some of these simple strategies.
  1. By working together, also known as collaborating. Your students will have the social language skills necessary to work with people from other cultures and perspectives. They will learn to share ideas and compromise to achieve the needed results.
  1. Finally, by caring about the world. Your students will be curious and connected adults who will be able to identify problems and seek out solutions with others. They will strive to make a difference in the world. Try some of these approaches to create a classroom environment in which students are encouraged to collaborate and show caring attitudes towards each other.

Some of these qualities have been listed under the label of “21st Century Skills”. We’re happy to look at them as prerequisites for success.  Students who communicate well, who think critically and creatively, and who work well with others, have the tools they need to find success in any field. And it all begins in our classrooms.

How do we build these skills? The links above will take you to a small sample of video tips on using and developing 21st Century Skills in your English classroom. To view all 56 videos available on this topic, visit this 21st Century Skills playlist on YouTube.

If you’re in Japan, join us on Sunday November 22 at the 2015 JALT conference in Shizuoka, where we will present our workshop entitled A Practical Guide to Building 21st Century Skills. Using examples from our new primary course Oxford Discover*, we will demonstrate how the building of 21st century skills can be incorporated into every language lesson. We’ll show how these skills can help your young learners develop English fluency and increase their motivation at the same time.

*2015 ELTon award winner for Excellence in Course Innovation.

Kathleen and Charles will present at JALT on Sunday, November 22nd. Click here for more details.


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So you think you can write?

Close up of pen on paperEver thought about writing your own teaching materials? Stephen Greene is an English language teacher, teacher trainer, and materials developer. Here, he takes us through the process he undertook to write his first published materials.

I have always written materials for my students. My first job was in a school in Poland where we had a grand total of two resource books to help us. The fact the course books we had ordered didn’t turn up until almost the end of the first term meant that we had very little choice but to get creative.

There are many reasons why we occasionally need to look outside the course book, but for me one of the main reasons is just the fun and the interest of doing it. I simply love writing for my students.

When OUP offered me the chance to co-write the Teacher’s Pack for Cambridge English Proficiency Masterclass with Jeanette Lindsey-Clark, I jumped at the chance. I thought to myself that all I would have to do was replicate my endeavours over the last 15 years, but on a grander scale. I could write a book, no problem. It turned out that I had a lot to learn.

Doing your research

Normally, I just wrote. I knew my students, my syllabus and my course book. I knew the strengths and weaknesses of all of them. If there was something lacking, and I felt inspired, I would sit down at my computer and write something to make up for it.

But when writing on this project I had to study. I needed to study the brief from the publisher in detail. I had to go through the Student’s Book to understand how it had been put together and the methodology that the author had used. I also had to check the changes in the Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE) exam and ensure I understood what the new questions demanded from the candidates. And all of this before I could even start doing any writing.

Constrained creativity

A number of times I had a great idea and spent some time developing it only to realise that it didn’t fit the criteria I was supposed to be working to. I found this to be one of the more difficult aspects of writing for somebody else; coming up with ideas wasn’t the hard part. Instead, coming up with ideas that fit the requirements of the project constrained and restricted my creativity. After a while, though, this restriction actually led to a better focus.

Being disciplined

The romantic image I had of sitting down at my computer and letting the creative juices flow through me to the screen just didn’t happen. Or at least, when it did happen it was as a result of being very disciplined and working through the times when I just couldn’t think of what I was supposed to write about. Balancing writing with teaching, family and having some sort of life isn’t easy so I often had to force myself to stay up until the early hours of the morning to keep to schedule.

Deadline is king

One of my favourite (non-ELT) writers, Douglas Adams, had a thing about deadlines: “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

This might be fine for a famous author, but for the likes of me, struggling to even get one book published, this was never going to be possible. If there is one thing that is going to make an editor angry with you and so not invite you back to the party it is to miss a deadline. Just don’t do it, under any circumstances.

The results

Despite the hard work and the steep learning curve the whole process was worth every minute. I learned an incredible amount about the publishing process and I believe this has made me a better teacher because I clearer insight as to why certain things have been selected in course books.

The discipline, focus and awareness of objectives have also improved the writing I do for my students and I feel sure that my personal materials are of a much higher standard now. I am a much better writer now, but I know I still have a lot more to learn.

This article first appeared in the September 2013 edition of the Teaching Adults Newsletter – a round-up of news, interviews and resources specifically for teachers of adults. If you teach adults, subscribe to the Teaching Adults Newsletter now.


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Video cameras in the hands of learners

Asian woman using video cameraJamie Keddie, author of Bringing Online Video into the Classroom, looks at the benefits of handing over control of the video camera to students. Jamie will be hosting a webinar on this topic on 15th and 16 April.

Filmed presentations

Anyone who is involved in rail transport will know that stopping trains at stations wastes time, energy and money. Unfortunately, it is also necessary to let passengers on and off! Today, your students are highly-creative problem solvers. Their task is to work in small groups to design a high-speed train which doesn’t have to stop at stations, but which still allows passengers to alight and disembark.

After sharing ideas and reaching a consensus, each group prepares to present their solution to the rest of the class. This involves creating diagrams to reinforce ideas. When they give their presentations, you sit at the back of the classroom and film their performances.

Later, you show students the following video which illustrates an idea for a train which doesn’t have to stop at stations:

From teacher’s to students’ hands

Filming presentations and other performances can be a great way to motivate students and document their work. However, in the activity described above, the technology stayed firmly in the teacher’s hands. The result of this could be missed opportunities for student creativity, interaction, and learning.

By giving control of the video cameras to students, the activity could have been completely different. Rather than the traditional speaking-at-the-front-of-the-class format, groups of students could find their own quiet corners (either in or out of the classroom) and work together to create a video in which individuals communicate their group’s idea to the camera. The resulting videos can then be delivered to the teacher and later played on the classroom projector for everyone to see and comment on.

Group of adults watching class presentation

Here are some thoughts about why this second option may be favourable:

1. Students’ own devices

In many situations, students will come to class with video cameras already in their hands! Smartphones and tablet computers both have video-recording functions which are perfectly adequate for the classroom.

2. An open learning space

If students make use of their own video devices, the filming process can extend to outside the classroom. Assignments in which students create videos for homework become possible.

3. Less stress for students

Speaking English in class can be stressful enough for many students. When the teacher points a video camera at such learners, the experience can be even more intimidating. The camera may be less daunting in the hands of a classmate.

4. Technological control means creative control

If students control the technology, they can get creative. For example, they may want to think carefully about the filming location or props to include in the frame. They may also want to edit their work, include close-ups of visuals, decide what to leave in, decide what to take out, add credits, etc. In addition, with control of the technology, students can go at their own pace. They can film as and when they are ready. They can also do more than one ‘take’ in order to get the result that they are looking for.

5. Content ownership

Digital content is notoriously ‘slippery’. It does not deteriorate with time and can easily fall into unintended hands. Understandably, students may be concerned about what happens to videos that you create in the classroom. When students make use of their own video devices, they automatically become owners of the content. This can make the process less intimidating. In addition, if you would like students to share their videos online, they can choose to do so on their preferred video-sharing site.

6. Parental permission

Permission to film younger learners and teens can be easier to obtain if we can demonstrate to parents that we want them to make use of their own video-recording devices in and out of the classroom. As well as the ownership issue mentioned above, we can ask parents to take an active role in the video production process. For example, if we want students to upload their work, parents could monitor video content first before giving the go-ahead.

7. Reduced workload for the teacher

Perhaps the most important point to make! Tablets and smartphones can be regarded as all-in-one devices. Students can use them to create, edit and share video. There is no need to transfer video files from one machine to another (camera to computer, for example), a potentially time-consuming step that many teachers will be familiar with.

8. Engaged viewing

For some inexplicable reason, most teenagers that I have worked with engage better with video presentations than with live classroom presentations (see image above). With students’ attention, we can make use of the pause and rewind buttons for language feedback. This can include drawing attention to good language and communication, and error correction.

To find out more about using video in the classroom, register for Jamie’s webinar on 15th and 16th April.