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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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7 ways Creative Writing can help your EFL students

shutterstock_176605295Having 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:

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.


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#NationalStorytellingWeek – Top 10 Tools for Expression in the EFL Classroom

writing booksIn recognition of National Storytelling Week, we thought it might be helpful to gather some of our resources and articles on the blog for aiding language learners in expressing themselves, either through written or spoken work. We’ve come up with our ‘top 10’ to share with you today.

Focusing on pronunciation and writing skills, equip your class with the techniques and skills to make telling their stories in English less of a challenge.

‘The Writing Paradox’ – Gareth Davies explores a quick writing exercise to overcome the common hurdle – ‘My students don’t want to write’.

Insight Top 10 Tips: Writing – Useful, practical tips for making writing accessible in the language learning classroom, both as a creative exercise, and more formally.

Ideas to get your students writing – A piece on helping to break down the barriers around writing tasks with quick practical exercises for the classroom.

Creative Writing in the Language Classroom: 8 Collected Poems – Following a Creative Writing in the Language Classroom webinar, Jane Spiro shares some of the output of poems collected from webinar attendees, along with a list of activities to help spark creative writing.

#qskills – What can I do to improve my students’ pronunciation and fluency? – Tamara Jones shares a quick video with some helpful hints around improving fluency.

Poetry in the ESL Classroom – Lysette Taplin shares some activities for using poetry to help with both writing and pronunciation in the language learning classroom.

You’ve got to have a system: vocabulary development in EFL – This article explores tips for building a broader vocabulary for language learners to draw upon when speaking in class.

#qskills – How do I motivate my students to speak in English instead of their native language in class? – A quick video run-through on encouraging students to use English to express themselves as opposed to relying on their native tongue.

Speaking in the monolingual classroom – Focusing on the most common problems learners have around expressing themselves in spoken English in class, this article comes up with practical tips to help fluency.

Why is Writing so hard? – Olha Madylus runs through some of the more common challenges around writing for language learners.

Are you planning to celebrate #NationalStorytellingWeek in your classroom? Let us know in the comments if you’ll be taking part!


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The art of juggling: developing the language learner’s vocabulary


Diana Lea taught English in Czechoslovakia and Poland before joining Oxford University Press as a dictionary editor in 1994.  She is the editor of the Oxford Learner’s Thesaurus, and today looks at why and how language learners use a thesaurus ahead of World Thesaurus Day on January 18th.

The word ‘thesaurus’ comes from the Greek meaning ‘treasure’ or ‘storehouse’ and the traditional thesaurus is a kind of storehouse of language. Roget’s Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases lists over 70 synonyms for fast, including zippy, fleet and nimble-footed. The editors have made no judgement about how useful each word is. The thesaurus marks words that are particularly formal or informal, but otherwise gives no information about how to use each word. The purpose of a thesaurus such as Roget is to remind native or expert speakers of the language of words they already know, but cannot quite bring to mind. It does not teach.

The needs of language learners are rather different. Even if they use a smaller thesaurus than Roget, with fewer synonyms, they may still not know which word to choose, without information on the exact meaning and use of each word. The result? According to teachers we interviewed, ‘Even high-level students use the same basic words again and again.’ ‘They need to be able to juggle synonyms.’ What information, precisely, do learners need to help them with this juggling act?

No two words are exactly the same

Consider the following pairs of sentences:

I used a very simple method to obtain the answer.

I used a very easy method to obtain the answer.

This encyclopedia is designed for quick and easy reference.

*This encyclopedia is designed for quick and simple reference.

I didn’t find it easy to persuade them to come.

*I didn’t find it simple to persuade them to come.

Say what you need to say, but keep it simple.

*Say what you need to say, but keep it easy.

In the first pair, either sentence sounds fine. But in the three following pairs, the second sentence sounds increasingly odd. Why is this? There are two main reasons: first, it is a question of meaning; and secondly, of collocation. The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines each word thus:

easy not difficult; done or obtained without a lot of effort or problems

simple not complicated; easy to understand or do

These are good, brief definitions, which do in fact get at the essential difference between the words, as well as the essential similarity. Nonetheless, probably for most learners looking up simple, it is the similarity and not the difference that will register. So what is the difference? The definition of simple in the Oxford Learner’s Thesaurus expands a little on the Oxford Advanced Learner’s definition to explain in what way something simple is ‘easy to understand or do’:

simple easy to understand or do because it contains very few, very basic parts or actions

There is also a note which clearly and simply compares and contrasts the two words, explaining exactly that difference between ‘not difficult’ and ‘not complicated’ which the Advanced Learner’s hints at but does not have space to explain.

Some of the collocational differences also become more intelligible: you can find something easy (or not!) according to your nature; but you keep something simple, according to its nature.

A more expressive vocabulary

There are two main ways in which students can improve their knowledge of synonyms. In the first place, they need to distinguish better between words they already partly know. Secondly, they need to learn new words. Consider these interesting sentences:

It was interesting to learn about daily life in Roman times.

The documentary makes interesting viewing.

We had an interesting discussion over lunch.

The book is an interesting adventure story.

The word interesting here may not fully convince you that these things are interesting. A far greater level of conviction is conveyed simply by substituting another word for interesting:

It was fascinating to learn about daily life in Roman times.

The documentary makes compelling viewing.

We had a stimulating discussion over lunch.

The book is a gripping adventure story.

Learners at upper-intermediate level may well have encountered some of these words in their reading. But how can they really access such words when they need them and become confident enough to use them?

A traditional thesaurus, as we have seen, does not really offer much help. Fascinating, compelling, stimulating and gripping can substitute for interesting in the contexts above, but not in all contexts, and they mostly cannot substitute for each other. What learners need is not just lists of synonyms, but a true dictionary of synonyms, a combination of thesaurus and learner’s dictionary. This is exactly what is offered by the Oxford Learner’s Thesaurus.

Look up any word and you will find a manageable group of 4-10 near-synonyms, all defined, but with the differences in meaning and usage carefully explained and illustrated with plenty of example sentences. Learners using this thesaurus can be much more confident of choosing exactly the right word.

Learning more words will not be completely easy, but it will improve your writing.

Let’s rephrase that: acquiring a broader vocabulary is never going to be completely painless, but it will enrich your writing.


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Teaching with Web 2.0 Tools (Part 3) – Web Tools for Writing

tablet e-book english language classroomMagali Trapero Turrent is an ELT Editor at Oxford University Press, Mexico. She is the co-author of several books published by OUP as well as a teacher and former OUP Educational Services teacher trainer. In her posts, she shares her ideas for using Web 2.0 tools to develop learner’s language skills.

It never ceases to amaze me the eagerness with which young learners begin the writing process—from tracing letters to learning to write their own name or their pet’s name. At that stage, the writing world seems so exciting—and it continues like this when they start forming sentences and, later, a complete paragraph. However, maintaining that zest for writing as they grow older is a completely different dynamic. As complexity increases in their development and more demands are placed on their attention, the desire to communicate in writing begins to decrease. But it does not have to be that way. Young learners love to tell stories and their imagination seems boundless. Yet, what sometimes seems missing is that much desired audience—the very reason for writing—and the knowledge on how to transform thoughts into an engaging, coherent and cohesive text. While we cannot escape the necessity to scaffold the writing lessons (Kendall & Khuon, 2006), we can certainly make the reason to write a lot of fun for our learners through the use of Web 2.0 tools.

Scaffolding our writing lessons depends on the purpose for writing (e.g., inform, keep in touch, persuade, entertain, express emotions, remind, etc.) the text type and other elements we need to consider when planning lessons. It is also useful to provide our learners with a model of the intended final product.

Because it is difficult for young learners to create content, prompts such as pictures, music, maps, real objects, short videos, or story starters can give them support as they activate prior knowledge on the topic, in addition to vocabulary and other linguistic elements they will need to complete the task. In providing a model for the final product, it is advisable to do that with a reading activity that shows the target text type and ideas about shaping content.

Two of my learners’ favorite award-winning, free, creative writing tools are Storybird and Pixton. With Storybird you can create a class and add students to it. You can also create specific assignments with a large assortment of illustrations to choose from. You and your learners can create poems, short picture stories or books. The advantage that Storybird and Pixton provide is that the image prompt can be chosen by you or your learners to begin brainstorming right on the page since it can be edited as many times as necessary. This is truly a lot of fun. Storybird and Pixton can be used with computers, tablets and smart phones through the mobile apps. The final version of the short story, poem, book or comic strip can be placed in your social network site or blog, or it can even be emailed.

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Figure 1: Sample Storybird picture story development page—Images courtesy of Storybird and FranBravo.

Prompts used for scaffolding, such as sentence starters or word banks, along with the large assortment of beautiful illustrations found in Storybird and Pixton can be highly motivating and engaging for your learners. And it is just as motivating for them to have a large audience, including family and friends—as opposed to only their teacher. As a matter of fact, the Storybird poem function provides a word bank along with punctuation marks for learners to drag and drop to create their poem. Of course, you have to make sure that the vocabulary is familiar to your learners and let them know that they can also use their own words.

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Figure 2: Sample Storybird poem development page—Images courtesy of Storybird and novoseltsev.

In planning a creative writing lesson to celebrate International Day for Biological Diversity, you can encourage your learners to write a picture story, a poem or a comic strip using Pixton— like the ones shown in the images. These activities can be collaborative. Pixton offers a user-friendly, fun way to develop comic strips. It contains a wide variety of characters to choose from and backgrounds.

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Figure 3: Sample development page – Courtesy of Pixton.

I can attest from experience that when students know their work will have a large audience, they work very hard during the editing stage to develop a fine publication. I certainly hope that your learners feel as excited about these award-winning creative writing Web 2.0 tools. Remember, good writing skills are usually the outcome of diverse and constant exposure to good reading materials as well as systematic practice.

In the next article in this series, we will explore the use of Web 2.0 tools for reading activities.

 

Reference and Further Reading

Kendall, J. & Khuon, O. (2006). Best Practices. Writing Sense: Integrated Reading and Writing Lessons for English Language Learners (pp. 16–36). Portland, ME: Stenhouse.