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September Round-up



There have been a whole heap of fabulous posts, articles and lesson plans about creative writing around the web this month, which makes me feel slightly better about the fact this blog continues to be a little neglected…

Firstly, Jeremy Harmer has written about a great lesson idea based around the idea of being a ghostwriter over on his blogs. I love writing activities like this that require students to really push the limits of their language and relies on a degree of communication and collaboration.

Adam Simpson shared five nice writing warm-up ideas, and also included ideas on how you could follow them up.

As a cat lover, I enjoyed Mona Kisala’s lesson idea based around a very cute cat picture story, which has possibilities for either writing or a role-play, would be great for young learners.

Another high quality lesson plan over on Film English this month, which involves reading and writing a poem, and some lovely work on text speak that I can see teenagers really appreciating.

I also came across this interesting website which focuses on the idea of online reading groups to encourage ELT teachers and TESOL students to read literature in English, and also to discuss what they are reading. It is particularly focused on people that might not have good access to texts in English. There is even the opportunity to publish your own writing on the site.

Nicola Prentis was contemplating the wider question of how we teach (or regain?) creativity in the class this month in a post which also attracted some insightful comments.

Finally, not specifically about ELT, but with some useful tips for anyone teaching creative writing, was this article on the Guardian’s teaching pages.


Summer Round-up


At the end of my last round-up I promised that the summer round-up would be a bumper edition to make up from my absence from blogging over the summer months (summer in the northern hemisphere at least). I am sorry to say that due to travelling, teaching and writing I’ve barely had time to read any blogs. With many of many favourite bloggers also being on a summer hiatus, this post will be short and sweet…

Firstly, Sirja shared her thoughts on the importance of reading, and using reading projects with mixed-level classes. Some great ideas for making reading a pleasure for our students.

On the topic of reading, if you are interested in using ‘choose your own adventure’ style books with your students (and I think it is a great idea!) then take a look at this blog post and the new kickstarter project launched by Marco Benevides.

Ceri Jones wrote about her session from the Image Conference on using images as a starting point for exploring storytelling and looking at the gaps in the narratives that pictures present.

Eva Buyuksimkesyan shared a lesson plan on using guided storytelling in class, a great way of encouraging students to be creative without throwing them in too much at the deep end!

On the theme of guided stories, John Hughes wrote about Pixar’s formula for telling a story which can easily be used as a class storytelling project too.


As always, if there is anything I’ve missed please add a comment. And after a stint back in the classroom after a couple of years away I also have lots more ideas for creative writing in class that I hope to have time to share with you soon. Good luck if you are back to school this week and I hope the sun is shining wherever you are!


May Round-up


Welcome to the May round-up on Creativities. This month there has been some really great ideas related to creative writing so I hope you check them out and are inspired by them.

The iDTi blog had a great series of blogs on ‘Music, Stories and Magic’ that are well worth reading. Of particular note is Kevin Stein’s post on using literature with his classes, and looking at exploring the gaps in texts.

Kevin Stein also wrote a post on his blog about writing six word memoirs (which I wrote about here) with his students. He has some really nice ideas about extending this task and the post is a great reflective take on what happened in his class when he tried this activity.

The Teacher James wrote about some interesting found poem activities on his blog, using book titles and blackout poems with texts. ESL hip-hop followed this up with a nice lesson plan on making poems using rap album titles.

Marisa Constantinides has just written a great post describing the benefits of digital storytelling for both younger and older learners (including leading to learners creating their own stories), as well as mentioning some tools to try in class.

Adi Rajan wrote about using an interesting short film as an audio-visual writing prompt over on his blog.

Finally, right back at the beginning of the month, Nik Peachy wrote about using poems for pronunciation practice as one of his daily activities for students. Pronunciation is one of my favourite ways of using poems in class too.

Creativities’ monthly round-ups are going on a short hiatus over the summer as I will be away from the end of next month but I will be back for a bumper round-up in August so please get in touch via twitter (@jo_cummins) or via Creativities’ facebook page if you write or read any great posts on creative writing in ELT over the next couple of months.

Is anybody out there? The importance of audience for student writing

This post has been shortlisted for the British Council’s Teaching English blog post of the month for May!! If you would like to vote for it, please click here and then click ‘like’  Thank you so much for your support!

Most ELT teachers (hopefully) discourage students from the idea of only wanting to speak to the teacher. However, it strikes me that, in contrast, most writing is only read by one person – the teacher. Regular readers of Creativities might have noticed that most of the lesson plans I write finish with me suggesting that the writing that has been done is shared in some way. This post is about why I believe this to be important.


(Photo taken from by @mrsdkrebs, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license,

I understand that some students have fears about sharing their writing. They are worried about having made mistakes, worried that their ideas aren’t clear, sometimes worried about sharing things that are personal. Students shouldn’t be forced to share their writing, and some writing (such as journal writing) might be personal and only intended for the teacher to read. But I think it is good to try and give students the confidence to put their writing out there. In the same way that in their future English lives they will not only be talking to a teacher, they also will be writing for others too. Whether this is work emails, facebook updates, tweets, comments on blogs, application letters or university dissertations, they all have an audience. And that audience aren’t necessarily going to be looking for the correct use of the present perfect, but are definitely going to be looking at their ideas, how they express themselves, their communication.

It can also be very motivating for students to know that their work is going to be read, whether that is by their peers and classmates or a wider audience. They will often make more of an effort to redraft, to make sure their meaning is clear and to try and be more creative when they are writing for an audience. For creative writing I think it can be especially motivating as the ideas are often more diverse, students will often inspire each other as well as giving very encouraging (although at times a bit brutally honest) feedback.

If work is going to be shared with classmates, I find the readers often need some motivation to read too. Collaborative writing can be a good way to do this. If you have had a hand in the initial ideas for a story you will naturally want to read the result. Another nice way is to give students the writing anonymously and have the students guess who wrote it.

So, how can you find an audience for your students’ writing? Here are some ideas I have used, if you have any others I would love to hear them!

Posting on Walls

Simple and low-tech. I like to post work up anonymously with blu-tac around the room (as mentioned above) and have students guess who wrote what. Younger learners often like to make posters with their stories or poems and you can put them up to decorate the rooms, your own and other classes will often then read them before or after classes.

Swapping and reading

You can put students in pairs and ask them to exchange and read each other’s stories. You can ask them to do peer error correction but I often find it better with creative writing to ask for feedback on the ideas, which can be asked for specifically by the writer (ie. was the ending believable? Do you think the main characters are likeable? Do you understand why s/he did X? Can you think of a better way to describe X?). It’s a great way to get students to focus on what the writer is saying it, as opposed to ticking boxes on how many connectors they have used, if they have a topic sentence, etc.

Letter/E-mail Writing

Not strictly creative writing (although letters can be creative!) but encouraging real letter writing is nice. I used to ask my young learner classes on summer school in the UK to write postcards home and then we would go to the post office and send them.  You can also encourage fan letters to movie stars, pop stars, writers, etc.  If they receive a reply even better! Also, emails asking for information, complaining, saying thank you or applying for jobs can all be useful things to explore that will help students get used to the idea of writing for an outside audience.

Reading aloud

I’m not advocating asking students to read out pages and pages of a story, as even the greatest authors can be dull doing this. However, poems are perfect to be read aloud. It is important students are given time to rehearse before though, and it can be a great opportunity to focus on pronunciation, stress and rhythm.


Role-plays are creative writing too! And they can be great collaborative writing tasks. Again, it is good to give students plenty of time to rehearse and help with pronunciation so they are confident enough to perform in front of the class or to record.

Class Wiki or Blog

Having a class blog or wiki is a great way for students to share work, and also potentially be able to share it with other people (particularly if they are studying abroad it is nice for the family to see what they are working on). I have used the wiki pbworks successfully with students, and I know other teachers use WordPress, Edublogs or Blogger with their classes. The advantage of blogging is that students can post easily, it is easy for you to give feedback and also you can set homework tasks to write comments on each other’s work. (See Chris Wilson’s great series on setting up class blogs for more information on doing this with your class).

Online flip-books

I recently came across a couple of online tools for making flip-books (for just pdfs and for various formats). I think they would make a lovely way of presenting the best of student writing at the end of a course, and could easily be shared with friends and family, and they can even be embedded onto blogs or websites. They look very professional too.

School Newsletters, Local papers, Online, Competitions

When your students have built up confidence in their writing, it might be time to bring it to a wider audience! If your school has a newsletter, why not ask if you can have a creative writing corner? You can publish one student’s work every issue (maybe voted for by the other students). Local English papers might also have a section for poems or stories you could submit your students’ work to. There are also places online you can submit work to (see my post on very short stories for some ideas for publishing them), and you could even keep an eye out for short story or poem competitions to encourage students to enter.

Is it more important for creative writing to have an audience than other types of writing? Honestly, I don’t know. What I do think though is that the purpose for other types of writing might be clearer (for example exam practice, practising particular vocabulary or grammar) whereas creative writing is often more about confidence and finding a ‘voice’ so perhaps there is a need for more of an aim to it. Also, it can really help with confidence for students to share and get feedback from people other than their teacher on creative writing. I think it is important to tell students the aim, purpose and audience for the writing before they do it, and also to discuss how to give feedback. Hopefully, in time, students will enjoy sharing their work and find it useful and rewarding to discuss it and reflect upon the writing process.

Mystery Objects


This is a really simple yet effective writing lesson. There is nothing like some unusual objects to spark your students’ imagination!

Aim: For students to write a short story inspired by an object (and to have the opportunity to review question forms).

Level: A2+

Preparation: Before class you need to prepare a bag of unusual or interesting objects. The picture above is of objects I found in a quick look around my house that would be suitable to use. Good objects are keys, jewellery, old coins, ornaments (non-breakable!), etc  – nothing too valuable or precious to you just in case they get damaged. You need at least one object per student, plus one to use as an example.


1. Ask a student to choose an object out of the bag (without looking!). Use this as the example object. Ask the student what the object is (depending on what it is this may be easy or may be a guessing game!) and for some words or phrases to describe it. Write up any interesting vocabulary that comes up.

2. Pass the bag around class and ask each student to choose an object (without looking in the bag).

3. Put the students into small groups and ask them to describe the objects. Note any interesting vocabulary on the board, and also any obvious words that aren’t mentioned. When they have finished discussing ask them which of the words on the board they think relate to which objects.

4. Write the following words on the board in a list going down: What, Who, Where, When, Why, How. Ask the students how they could complete questions about the objects that start with these words.  You could do this as a whole class activity, in their groups or individually. You might get slightly different answers, but you will probably end up with something like this:

– What is the object?

– Who does it belong to?/ Who owns it?

– Where did they get it?

– When did they get it?

– Why do they have it?/Why is it important to them?

– How do they feel about it?/How did they get it?

(If problems come up with question formation this would be a good opportunity to review the structure, and you might also want to discuss why some of the questions are in the past, some in the present)

5. Ask the students to discuss these questions in their groups, and to use their imaginations! If any of them are struggling with ideas for their object you can allow them to swap with another student, or choose a different object if you have enough.

6. Finally, ask them to write a short story that features their object. They could focus on one or all of the questions they have discussed before (eg. a story about how the person got the object), or the story could be more about the person they imagined owning the object with the object only having a small role. Alternatively, you could ask your class to write a story that features all of the objects in their group (more challenging but potentially more interesting!). Another idea would be a collaborative story where the first person writes the start of a story featuring their object, someone else writes the next part and has to include their object, etc. This is best set as a homework task using a wiki or blog. As a low tech option, one person could write it one night for homework, then pass to the next person the next day, etc and you could follow-up with editing all together in a future class (does mean you need reliable students though!)

7. When the stories are finished, as always, it is nice to display them in class, publish on a class blog or wiki, or simply get them to read them to their groups.

April Round-up

kewWow, April is over already?! Due to general busyness and internet connection issues I only managed one post (Soap Opera Dramas) this month, but I did add a new page of creative writing prompts, and I’m on the look out for more suggestions!

I feel there is quite possibly lots of great posts I’ve missed this month due to aforementioned problems so please add a comment if you have read/written anything relevant and I’ll add it in. Although a lot of the blog action has been IATEFL related this month, here are some great creative writing related posts for you to explore.

Firstly, this month is Poetry month, and there has been a couple of poetry related posts this month. Sylvia Guinan wrote a fabulous post full of ideas for using poetry in teaching. It’s given me lots of ideas for future posts here. Ljiljana Havran also has recently written a great post on ‘grammaring’ which involves turning prose into poems and vice versa.

A nice idea from Richard Byrne here involving art work, storytelling and recording a narration.

Also, just sneaking into the round-up, was a post by Adi Rajan with an unusual, physical writing prompt idea.

Ian James gave a preview of his talk from the fabulous looking upcoming Image Conference. His talk is on using Student generated images in class and there are some nice creative ideas. I wish I could make it to the talk but the post is a great start!

Another person talking at the Image Conference will be Kieran Donaghy. Every month he seems to have a great lesson on his Film English site that incorporates creative writing, and this month is no exception with this lesson plan that has a short story writing exercise as a pre-watching activity.

TEFLtastic blog collected together a list of their worksheets related to storytelling, lots of ideas I need to explore in more detail!

Finally, for any teachers of Young Learners, I really like this article by Karen Frazier on the OUP blog on teaching them writing.

Soap Opera Dramas

This post has been shortlisted for the British Council’s Teaching English blog post of the month for April!! If you would like to vote for it, please click here and then click ‘like’  Thank you so much for your support!

Love them or hate them, most students around the world will be familiar with the concept of soap operas. For students in English speaking countries, soap operas can often be a way of not only understanding something of local culture, but also can help with listening comprehension. And, thanks to the internet, you can now access English speaking soaps wherever you are in the world – a good homework task to set maybe?! The activity would be great as a summer school project, or with teenagers or young adults.

This activisoap-9244_640ty is an adaptation of one I have used before in class many times. It was inspired by recent posts from Scott Thornbury, Carol Goodey and Sandy Millin.

Aim: For students to write a scene (or two) from an imaginary soap opera and then act for the class, film or record it.

Level: A2+

Preparation: You will need 3 boxes (or other containers) labelled ‘character’, ‘location’ and ‘action’ to put slips of paper in, a pile of (recycled) paper torn into eights (enough for 3 per student) and, if you wish to record the performances in some way, a way of doing this (video recorder, dictaphone or computer with mic, students own phones, etc)


1. Write ‘Soap Operas’ on the board and ask for a definition (something like: a drama series that continues indefinitely).  Ask for some names of any that are famous in their country, or ones they know from other countries and perhaps tell them about famous ones where you are from if you are from a different country. Ask your students if they ever watch them. You will probably get some strong opinions on both sides (don’t worry if everyone hates them, it will kind of add to the fun!). Elicit why or why not they watch. Ask them what kind of stories occur in ‘soaps’. All the time be writing up any useful vocabulary on the board, reformulating where appropriate (eg. love affairs, unrealistic, over the top, secrets, families, neighbours, lies, murders, addictive, etc).

2. Put the three boxes labelled ‘character’, ‘location’ and ‘action’ at the front of the class. Give each of your students 3 pieces of paper.

3. On the first piece of paper ask them to write a description of a character they might find in a soap opera, for example their name, age, job, marital status. You might want to give them an example such as “Cindy, 28, married to a rich man, wants to be an actress”

4. On the second piece of paper as them to write a location, for example: “an Italian restaurant on a Saturday evening”.

5. On the third piece of paper ask them to write an action or scenario that might happen in a soap. For example: “Someone is trying to stop their partner finding out that they are having an affair”.

6. Ask the students to fold up their pieces of paper and put them into the corresponding box.

7. Put your students into small groups (3-4 people). Ask each student to choose a piece of paper from the “character” box and then each group to choose a piece of paper from both the “location” and “action” boxes (this means that all the pieces of paper from the “character” box should be gone but there should still be some left in the other two boxes.)

8. Ask your students to work together to come up with a scene from a soap opera with all the characters on their piece of paper that is set in the location they have and contains the action. Give them a few minutes to discuss. If they are really struggling with the action or location give them the option of choosing another one, as you will have plenty spare. Ask them to think of a name for their soap.

9. Ask them to write a short script/dialogue for the soap opera in their groups. Try and get them to take turns in writing so that everyone takes part in this stage, although they should all be contributing with ideas too. It is a good idea if each student takes responsibility for one of the characters (which they will later act as) but it doesn’t matter if this is the character they chose before or not.

10. If some groups finish much more quickly than others they can choose a new “location” and “action” and add a new scene to the soap opera (in which case they may have to think of more characters too, which is fine). They don’t need to take it too seriously – it is fine to be over-the-top and make fun of the genre!

11. At this stage you need to decide which type of production you are looking for. You can either:

a) Ask the students to each take on a role and perform in front of the class as a short play.

b) Ask the students to perform the scene(s) onto an audio recorder (such as Audacity), Dictaphone or phone and make it a radio soap opera which the class can then listen to.

c) Film the students on a video recorder, camera or phone acting their dramas and then play to the rest of the class (this would be the best option if you have the resources and space!)

For options “a” and “c”, it would be good for the students to learn their lines. This could be set for homework and the recording done in the next class if possible. For option “b” they could obviously just read. Either way, it is good for them to rehearse, and for you to monitor and help with pronunciation, etc.

12. If you have the resources and time and you have recorded them in some way you could add music, titles, sound effects or edit your mini soap operas. It is great to get them to share with the whole class though so the other students can recognise the characters, actions and locations they originally wrote. Also, it is a great opportunity for students to record themselves and hear themselves speaking without being too intent on scrutinising pronunciation, rather a more gentle awareness exercise.

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