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Creative Writing in the Language Classroom: 8 Collected Poems

Group of teenagers studyingFollowing a webinar entitled “Creative Writing in the Language Classroom” on 9th and 15th March, Jane Spiro, author of Creative Poetry Writing (2004) and Storybuilding (2007), presents 8 Collected Poems generated by the participants of the webinar over both dates.

During our two webinars we experimented with language and language play, and ‘wrote’ together 8 poems, which I am delighted to share with you in this blog.

The poems here have all been generated by you the participants, coming from 52 different countries and writing your lines and ideas online during the sessions. I have merely organised them, pared down words here and there where less might express more, cut out repetition where several of you said the same thing, sometimes grouped ideas together that seemed to fit semantically, creating verse forms of 2 or 3 or 4 lines. So, although I have acted here as editor, every word in these poems comes from you, the participants.

Download the full PDF of Collected Poems generated from the webinar.

We started by sharing and comparing ways in which we write ourselves, and use creative writing with our learners. I have collated some of these comments into the first poem Writing Creatively.

We then experimented with the different components of language, starting with the phoneme, the smallest unit of language. Here we tried to ‘describe’ to one another in writing, the sounds participants were hearing all around the world in their rooms and classrooms. This led to the second poem Our sounds with spring and summer sounds from Brazil, Italy, Portugal, India.

We then looked at the next biggest component of language, the morpheme, with our example being the prefix ‘man’. This idea comes from a poem by Andy Brown which we used as a starting point. Which words can be constructed with the prefix ‘man’? Participants wrote their ‘man’ words and built this into the sentence ‘It’s a man—– world’, as in the poem by Andy Brown. Our results are in the poem Mankind World – just as good as the published one, which became part of the UK school exam syllabus!

Next we looked at negative and positive connotations in words: how do we interpret words and where do our associations come from – our experience of life, stories, cultural influences? We compared responses to the words ‘red’ and ‘rose’, and all these associations formed the poem Rose Red.

Our next activity looked at the way words collate – or do not naturally collate – with one another. So, for example, if we compare someone human to something inanimate, we have immediately generated a metaphor – ‘finding similarities in dissimilarities’ as Coleridge said in his treatise on poetry. We listed people in our lives: then objects in the natural world, and joined the two with the verb form ‘is like’. Participants very rapidly joined in with this idea, creating metaphors about mothers, boyfriends and girlfriends, wives and husbands, sons and daughters. The results are in the poem My mother is like a flower.

Another way to create a metaphor is to compare something abstract – for example, ‘learning a language’, with something concrete such as seashells, a white room, or a mountain. Participants were asked to choose which metaphor they related to most from a choice of three, and to explain their choice. The results are in the poem Learning a language is like

Next we moved onto  sentence patterns. The first pattern ‘I remember’ was used to trigger memories of schooldays, and in particular first days at school. This very simple sentence opening could be completed by just a single noun or noun phrase, or a whole clause – but all convey past memories and even a sense of nostalgia. The results are in the poem I remember schooldays.

Finally we looked at complex sentence patterns, and the structure ‘If I were ____, I would’. When we introduce ‘language play’ and allow ourselves to ‘be’ inanimate as well as animate, abstract as well as concrete, this sentence structure yields all kinds of interesting metaphors. You can read these in the poem If I were, I would.

These ideas and examples are offered to you, the reader, so you can try them out for yourselves, in the  classroom and outside, and compare and add your own results to those we have here as our poems become more and more international. Happy writing!

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Creative Writing in the Language Classroom

Jane Spiro, author of Creative Poetry Writing (2004) Storybuilding (2007), looks at how, why, and with what effect we can include creative writing activities in the language classroom. Jane will be hosting a webinar entitled “Creative Writing in the Language Classroom” on 9th and 15th March. You can find more information and register to attend here.

Why introduce creative writing activities?  

Our use of the mother tongue is full of the same ‘creative’ strategies that poets use when they are shaping a poem. When we tell jokes we are often playing with puns and the shape and form of words: when we use idioms we are often invoking a metaphor or simile that has become part of the language. The names of products, or the nicknames we use for people we like and dislike often play with the sound of words – alliteration and internal rhymes, the connotation of words, or multiple meanings.  So one reason that creative activities in the language classroom are worthwhile, is because they mirror the strategies we use in our mother tongue.

Another, perhaps even more important reason, is that an effective creative writing strategy brings the whole learner into the classroom: experiences, feelings, memories, beliefs. Of course other activities can do this too – but the creative writing activity can lead to an outcome which is memorable, which the learner may want to keep, or even ‘publish’ to others: a Valentine poem, a poem of thanks to a parent, a birthday poem for a sibling or friend.

How do creative writing activities fit with language learning?

Many teachers say there is no time for poetry activities, or creative activities, alongside all the language goals of the classroom. Another objection, is that the language of poems and stories is quite different from the everyday language students really need.

This webinar will answer these two concerns.  We will explore the ways in which creative writing activities can be developed as part of the language syllabus, helping to make vocabulary, structures and patterns memorable and engaging.  We will also consider how creative writing activities allow opportunities for connecting language skills so that writing leads to informed reading, and vice versa. Our discussions and activities will also prove that these strategies are within the capacity of all learners (and teachers too!) and do not require special ‘genius’ or talent to be achievable.

Don’t forget to find out more information and register for Jane’s upcoming webinar.

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Gems on the Web – Storybird

Storybird.com design screenRussell Stannard, winner of the British Council Innovations Award 2010 and owner of teachertrainingvideos.com returns with another useful web tool for language teachers and learners. This time it’s a website that enables you to create your own illustrated stories.

I dedicate half my life to looking for interesting websites for language learning. Just like London buses, the good websites all seem to come along at the same time. The last few months have been amazing but I think there is one site that really stands out.

The website in question is Storybird.com. In its simplest form it is a website that allows you to create short illustrated stories or books. There is nothing much new about that, but the actual tools and illustrations that the site provides are what make it stand out from anything similar I have seen.

Storybird provides whole collections of artwork around a theme or topic. The artwork is by amazing artists and the collections are linked. So all the pictures have the same ‘look and feel’ and can be easily fitted together to create a very professional looking story.

A student can visit the site, choose a certain artist or topic and then use the pictures to build up a story. The student can build up his/her story by dragging pictures they like into the centre of their screen and then writing the story in the space provided. The artwork is simply breath-taking and the tools allow the students to easily add pages, add and delete pictures and edit the text.

The resulting books can then be saved on the website for others to read or for the teacher to view. What’s more, the whole site is free! The stories can also be printed out and a cover is even provided.

Writing stories is not for all students. The key, in my opinion, is to give students help with the writing process. So, for example, if you are going to get the students to write a story around the theme of “parks”, you might start by thinking of a series of exercises you could do to get them to brainstorm and focus on ideas. It might include listing related vocabulary, putting students into pairs and giving them an image of a park to describe together. You might provide the students with a list of activities and ask them which ones they would do in a park. The idea is to get them thinking about the topic, building up their vocabulary and generating ideas.

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