Wordle is an online word game that was originally created by software engineer Josh Wardle for his partner and, since its creation, it has soared in popularity. Millions of people (including me) are now joining the fun, confusing our family and friends by posting multicoloured squares on newsfeeds everywhere. And it’s free to play – all you need is internet access! Continue reading
Last month, we hosted Gareth Davies’ webinar, ‘Making the Impossible Possible: How to get your students writing’! During the webinar and on his previous blog post, we asked you to send us all your burning questions for Garon teaching creative writing in the EFL classroom.
What is your opinion on teachers writing a sample text for students to get used to writing?
This is a good question, reading and writing go hand in hand and there is evidence to suggest that the more reading a student does the better their writing will become, so in general having as much exposure to different texts can only help students. Having or not having a model is often cited as the major difference between process and product writing. In process writing the students study a sample text and use it as a model and is a good approach for students who are preparing for an exam or who need to write formulaic emails or reports. However, sometimes I think this can impose restrictions on students. So if I am doing a creative writing exercise I might avoid giving students a model at the start of the activity, to allow their creative juices to flow.
How could we use these ideas to writing for exams? I mean, IELTS, Cambridge exams?
Thanks for this question, let me try to give you an analogy. When someone trains to run a marathon, they don’t only run long distances. They do some gym work, some short runs, and perhaps they change their diet. For me, this is the same as preparing for an exam. You need to do some exam practice, but you also need to hone your skills and prepare in different ways. Creative writing tasks can allow students to practise their writing in an interesting way, but they are still using the skills they will need for academic purposes. When I was teaching an EAP course in the summer I did several storytelling and writing activities just to free the students up, and they found it very helpful.
How you would evaluate or share the poems?
This is a very interesting point. When I ask my students to do creative writing activities, I try to focus as much as possible on the content rather than the accuracy. I see it as a fluency activity. Therefore, on their first draft, I might comment on how the story or poem made me feel, how I enjoyed it, etc., and only point out errors where the meaning is confused. I might also ask the students to peer-correct each other’s work and ask me if they are not sure about something. As for sharing their work, I ask the students to decide if they are public or private and they mark the top of the paper. If they are public then I will ask them to read them out or put them on display. If the students have marked it as private then only I will look at it.
With creative writing, it is often personal, I don’t think it is fair to share the students’ work if they are not ready.
What do you think of beginning with more concrete descriptive language?
In one of my previous webinars, I talked about the following activity, which looks at descriptive language.
- Write a sentence on the board e.g. The boy walked up the stairs.
- Tell the student the boy was scared, ask them where they would put that word in that sentence. e.g. The scared boy walked up the stairs.
- Now ask them how he walked up the stairs. Elicit an adverb and ask them where it goes in the sentence. e.g. The scared boy walked quickly up the stairs.
- Next ask them to describe the stairs, (narrow? steep? dark?) and ask them where their adjective goes. e.g. The scared boy walked quickly up the dark stairs.
- Finally, ask them to think of a different word for ‘walked’, (ran? climbed? tip-toed?) e.g. The scared boy tip-toed quickly up the dark stairs.
- Now it is time to edit. You’ve gone from a simple sentence to a much too complicated one. Which words leave the best impression on the reader, which are not needed? e.g. Perhaps you don’t need scared because tip-toed and dark imply this.
- Put the students into pairs and ask them to do the same for other adjectives, excited, happy, sad, angry etc. You can help them with the words by translating or filling in gaps in their knowledge.
Which do you prefer? Poet or Teacher.
Actually, I love both and they are not that different. Both require you to plan and prepare carefully, both make you bring your personality to the work. Both encourage you to be creative. With both, you hope to leave a positive influence on your audience. And finally, with both sometimes things go wrong and you have to reassess and start again.
Watch Gareth’s webinar, ‘Making the Impossible Possible: How to get your students writing’!, free on the Oxford Teachers’ Club!
Gareth Davies is a writer, teacher, teacher trainer, and storyteller. He has been in the ELT industry for 21 years teaching in Portugal, the UK, Spain and the Czech Republic. Since 2005 he has worked closely with Oxford University Press, delivering teacher training and developing materials. Gareth joins us today to preview his webinar ‘Making the Impossible Possible… How to get your students writing’.
Creative 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.
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.
Having graduated from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Jonathan returned to his native Malta to get a TEFL Certificate before going to Korea for 4 years to travel and teach English. He has now returned to Toronto where he started CreatEng Cafe – a creative writing website for English learners. Each year they host a Creative Writing Competition where students from all over the world participate for a chance to win prizes and get published.
Learning phrases and studying grammar will help students understand the foundation of English, but they can only truly become fluent once they are able to construct their own sentences freely and independently, and what better way to do that then by telling a story?
Here are 7 ways creative writing can help your students learn English:
- Puts Your Grammar Lessons Into Practice
So they get pretty good marks on their grammar test, but what about their ability to communicate their thoughts? Sometimes students spend so much time with their heads in books they do not get the opportunity to share their own stories. This can help them practice all the grammar they learned and put it together into an entertaining story.
- Improve Confidence
Having someone else read a story you wrote is very empowering, but even if they don’t share it, students will build confidence having the freedom to create their own story and not having to worry about being perfect.
- Inspiring and Motivational
Grammar books can be a little rigid, and creative writing gives students a little more time in the playground. Having been able to write a full story, no matter how long or short, will give them a sense of accomplishment and the motivation to push themselves further.
- Exercise their Creativity
Some words or phrases can have several different meanings, and creative writing gives students the ability to think about the words they use differently. This new perspective on words will let them be adventurous and it will lead them to more discoveries.
- Accessible Anywhere and Anytime
Some students will not have anyone to practice their English with outside of the classroom, but creative writing can be a great outlet for students who want to continue practicing at home or at school.
- Think in English
When students learn how to communicate their ideas, thoughts and feelings in English they will feel more in control. They will eliminate that step of translating or thinking in their head and it will become more natural for them.
- Become More Fluent
There is a sense of accomplishment having learned how to think in English and communicate a story confidently. Practice makes perfect and with each story they write they become more and more fluent.
Do your students have a story to tell?
They can enter the CreatEng Cafe writing competition for their chance to
win prizes and get published.
Dr. Ann Snow, writing consultant for Q: Skills for Success, Second Edition, discusses the particular challenges of writing in an academic context.
This month I will be teaching a new academic writing course for second language students at my university. I am thus thinking a lot about writing these days and looking forward to helping my students become better academic writers. I’ve promised a lot in my course proposal. I will:
- Cover characteristics of expository writing and help students apply them to their own academic disciplines;
- guide them through a cycle of awareness and analysis leading to self-assessment; expose them to different text types (e.g. problem-solutions, methods, discussion sections) and genres (e.g. critiques, case studies, literature reviews, research papers);
- help them improve their sentence and discourse-level grammar and be better proofreaders of their own writing.
In addition, I am determined to go outside the traditional boundaries of a writing class because I think that writing cannot and should not be taught in isolation from the other skills that students need in order to be effective writers. Therefore, I have added academic vocabulary and strategic reading skill components. I also plan to integrate critical thinking skills so my students improve their abilities to make inferences, synthesize, develop arguments and counter-arguments, and evaluate sources in their writing. My task feels a little overwhelming right now, but also helps me as the instructor appreciate the complexities of academic writing and understand better the challenges our second language students face.
Finding the writer’s voice
Stepping back from the details of my new course, let’s consider the big picture of what writing entails. Writing is a complex language form practiced by users of all languages (both native and non-native) for everyday social and communicative purposes and, for many, for vocational, educational, and professional needs. It has been variously described as a product – a piece of writing with a particular form and the expectation of “correctness.” And as a process – a journey that takes writers through stages where they discover they have something to say and find their “voice.” From the cognitive perspective, it is seen as a set of skills and knowledge that resides within the individual writer and from the sociocultural perspective as a socially and culturally situated set of literacy practices shared by a particular community (Weigle, 2014). With these perspectives in mind, all teachers of writing must ask: How can I help my students improve their writing and what are best practices in the classroom? As I design my new course I am asking myself these same questions.
An important first step is undertaking a needs assessment, whether informal or formal, to learn what kinds of writing students need. From this assessment, a syllabus or curriculum can be developed or a textbook series selected that is a good match with your students’ needs. Typically, the instructional sequence starts with personal/narrative writing in which students have to describe or reflect on an experience or event. This usually leads to expository writing in which students learn to develop a thesis statement and support this controlling idea in the body of their writing. Analytic or persuasive writing is the most challenging type of academic writing because students must learn to state and defend a position or opinion using appropriate evidence (Ferris, 2009). These kinds of academic writing tasks require students to become familiar with a variety of text types and genres, one of my course goals.
Improving vocabulary and grammar
The academic writing class also provides the opportunity for students to fine-tune their grammar and expand their academic language vocabulary. Typically, by the time our second language students are engaged in academic writing, they have been exposed to the majority of grammatical structures in English (e.g. complete tense system; complex constructions such as relative clauses and conditionals), but they still may need to learn how to integrate these structures into their writing. They also need to match text types with the kinds of grammatical structures needed. For example, in order to write a cause/effect essay, students need to use subordinating clauses with because and since and they need to use the appropriate transitional expressions like therefore and as such. Student will most likely have learned these structures in isolation but now need extensive practice and feedback to use them accurately in their writing. In terms of academic vocabulary, students need to differentiate the types of vocabulary found in everyday usage (e.g. the verbs meet and get) with their more formal academic counter-parts encounter and obtain (see Zimmerman, 2009, for many other examples.)
In sum, the English for Academic Purposes curriculum must integrate reading and writing skills, and, as mentioned, grammar and vocabulary. Cumming (2006) points out that a focus on reading can lead to writing improvement and an opportunity to learn discipline-specific vocabulary. It also gives students something to write about. Combining reading and writing also provides needed practice in analyzing different text types so students see the features of these models. These kinds of activities create opportunities for more complex tasks such as summarizing and synthesizing multiple sources. A curriculum that integrates reading and writing also exposes students to graphic organizers for reading comprehension which student can recycle for pre-writing (Grabe, 2001). Finally, students need many exposures to similar tasks in order to master the complexities of academic writing and build confidence in their abilities.
I look forward to teaching my new academic writing course and I hope this brief glimpse inspires others to undertake this challenge as well.
References and Further Reading
Ferris, D. (2009). Teaching college writing to diverse student populations. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Grabe, W. (2001). Reading-writing relations: Theoretical perspectives and instructional practices. In D. Belcher & A. Hirvela, (Eds.), Linking literacies: Perspectives on L2 reading-writing connections. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Weigle, S. C. (2014). Considerations for teaching second language writing. In M. Celce-Murcia, D. M. Brinton, & M. A. Snow (Eds.), Teaching English as a second or foreign language (4th ed., pp. 222-237). Boston, MA: National Geographic Learning Heinle Cengage.
Zimmerman, C. (2009). Work knowledge: A vocabulary teacher’s handbook. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.