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Monthly Archives: January 2013

January Round-up

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Well, it’s coming to the end of the first month of Creativities! Despite the snow, January blues and coughs and colds that characterise this time of year in my part of the world I hope I have managed to post some interesting lesson ideas for you. Don’t forget, if you use any of my ideas in class I would love to hear feedback on how it goes.

I thought it would be a good chance to round-up some of the interesting ideas I have found on other blogs and websites over the past few weeks that are related to creative writing. Some of these are new posts, others old ones that I have just discovered. Most of them concern writing, but not all. I hope you find something interesting here. If I have missed anything or you find anything you think I should include in next month’s round-up please let me know via the comments below, or via twitter or email (contact details here)

Firstly, Rachael Roberts has had some great writing ideas on her blog ELT-Resourceful. The first had some interesting thoughts and ideas on collaborative writing, and the second had some short, stimulus for getting students to write. Many of these ideas I’ve used myself in some kind of variation but some are new, and I’m always looking for new ideas to spark the imagination so I was excited by both these posts.

Adam Simpson has also had some writing ideas over on his Teach them English blog. He makes a bold claim for the greatest creative writing activity ever. The jury is still out on that claim! But it is a nice guided story exercise. Adam also blogged on some ideas for teaching adjectives, an important part of most fiction. I particularly liked the references to Raymond Chandler in this post!

If you are looking for an activity on describing people and developing characters (as well as plotting a story) I really like this lesson plan from Designer Lessons. It also links into the theme of collaborative writing.

On Sandy Millins blog, she described a class where the students created their own soap opera, based on an activity from Cutting Edge. It seemed like a great activity for dramatic plot writing and may be an idea I revisit in the future.

Moving away from writing ideas, this  speaking activity from the British Council about one-story spoken chain stories I thought would be the perfect warmer for advanced students for the post I wrote on chain stories.

Finally, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the fiction and reading ideas on Kevin Stein’s blog The Other Things Matter this month. Firstly, I thought his ideas on using writer’s workshop techniques for reading texts were not only much better than simple comprehension questions, but were also a simple low-prep option for working on readings. Also on Kevin’s blog, he has a number of short stories he has written for ELLs (English Language Learners), and this month he posted a new one, ‘Below the Surface’ which was followed by some ideas for using it in class. While you are on Kevin’s blog, take a look at some of his other short stories for ELLs, after all the more fiction your students read, the more they might be encouraged to write some!

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This Is Your Life

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So this activity is all about getting your students to write obituaries for each other. OK, I know that sounds a little depressing but please bear with me and give it a go as it is a really nice, communicative, combined skills lesson and you can end up with some really interesting, and even touching stories. I have found it works really well with teenagers and young adults that still have their whole lives full of dreams and ambitions ahead of them. It is also a good way to practise the past simple tense (and for more advanced learners the other past narrative tenses).

(Please see the end of this post for a variation to avoid the ‘death’ part if you are worried about this!)

Aim: For the students to write imaginary obituaries for each other, and in the process read a real obituary and interview a classmate. They will also practise the use of the past simple (and possibly other past tenses).

Level: B1+ (particularly teenagers and young adults)

Task:

1. Ask the class what happens when a famous person dies (you may get suggestions of it is on the news, people take flowers to where they died, etc). Elicit what you might find in a newspaper, eg an article about the person’s life and death. You can introduce the word ‘obituary’ at this point if you like but it is not really necessary.

2. Ask for some ideas for the type of information you might find in an obituary. You might get something like the following: where they were born, their schooling, their family, when and how they became famous, their biggest achievements, how they died. Put any ideas on the board.

3. Give the students an obituary to read of a person that they will have heard of. The length and complexity will depend on the level of your class, and you could adapt a text if you like. Here are a couple of examples that would work well: Steve Jobs or Neil Armstrong. Ask them to identify the type of information included (is it the same as their ideas? Is there anything else?) add any other types of information to the list on the board. Also ask the class to identify the tenses used.

4. Ask the class to form pairs. Tell them it is many years in the future and they have all now become very famous. Unfortunately they have also just died! Explain that the need to interview their partner to find out information about their life until now (born, family, etc) and they should also find out something about their likes and talents so they can imagine what they will become famous for.

5. After they have found out the information they need from their partner they should make notes about the future under the categories you have on the board.

6. Set a word limit appropriate to your class and the level of the students and a time limit for writing and ask them to write their partners life story.

7. When they have finished they should swap and read what has been written about them and you can then discuss the things they liked about their imaginary life and the things they hope don’t come true.

Variation: If you are worried about the ‘death’ (!) part of the obituary (or if you wanted to do the lesson with younger learners and are worried about their parents’ view on them writing an obituary) you can easily adapt this. Instead of describing it as an obituary, just say they are all old and famous and are having an article written about their amazing life for a magazine. This way you can miss out any references to dying!! Just find a biography of a famous person who is still alive for the reading section and ask the students for ideas of things you might find in a biography of a person’s life.

(I’m sure I’ve adapted this idea from somewhere so if anyone knows where the original idea comes from please let me know so I can acknowledge it.)

Chain Story Activity

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(Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @sandymillin, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/)

This activity was inspired by a great blog post by Rachael Roberts on ELT Resourceful on Collaborative writing activities. In the post Rachael mentions circle writing (or chain writing) activities and states she is “not actually very keen on this activity. It can have some amusing outcomes, but I wonder what exactly the students are learning, as the process rarely produces a coherent or cohesive outcome.” I also had the same issue with chain stories, it was hard to see the point to them! However, the students did seem to enjoy them, and it got even the most reluctant writers getting something down on paper. So I decided to try and find a way to make them work for me, and this is what I came up with. It is a simple solution but it has always worked well for me.

Aim: The class will collaborate on several stories and then edit and redraft to come up with (hopefully) coherent (although probably at times bizarre) stories. I like to use a guided chain story with prompts which can be found in many photocopiable resource books (the Reward series have a couple), or you can make up your own with the class.

Level: A2+

Task:

1. Carry out the chain story (I always remind the students to write clearly because another student is going to have to read their sentences afterwards). Set a time limit for students to complete the question before saying change and asking the students to fold the paper over and pass it to the person on their right. Monitor as they do the activity to check they have understood the questions and their sentences are answering them.

2. Once the last question has been answered ask the students to pass the paper one more time to the right. Tell the class that the paper they are now holding is their story and they are responsible for it.

3. Ask them to unfold the paper and read the story. If there is anything they don’t understand encourage them to find the person who wrote it and ask them to explain.

4. Now explain that they are going to redraft this story into a text. The text must be connected and logical. They can add information but they have to keep the facts of the story the same as they have on their paper. Ask them to try and make the story flow. Set them a time limit to complete the task.

5. When they have finished the stories it is nice if everyone has an opportunity to read them since they have all contriuted to them. If you have a class webpage or wiki they could be uploaded there, or you could stick them up around the walls of the classroom and the students could go round and read them. You could even vote on which was the funniest, strangest, etc.

A (Creative) Writing Editing Checklist

Aim: I find it useful to give students a checklist before expecting them to edit their own work, or indeed to undertake peer correction. The following checklist is from a creative writing module I taught. It can be adapted for almost any level or any type of writing. It can also be personalised for individual students and added to over time so it reflects errors or problems that they make. Over time it will serve as a memory jogger for common problems.

Level: A2+ (when adapted)

Worksheet:

The first time you write something is only the beginning to get your ideas down. That is the fun part! After that, the hard work begins… Here we will look at three main areas: paragraphs, grammar and vocabulary.

Use this checklist to try and make your writing as accurate, clear and as interesting as possible. First make notes on your first draft and then write the piece out again.

Paragraphs

Have you used any paragraphs? Have you used them in the correct places?

There are three main places where you would start a new paragraph:

  1. When you change location or time.

For example:

…..After they finished dinner, Jane was shattered and so headed off to bed to get an early night. She was asleep before her head hit the pillow.

The next morning the sunlight through the thin curtains on the window woke her early….

2. When you change to a new idea.

For example:

…her eyes met his and she smiled, a spark of electricity passed between them. His brown eyes reminded her of her father.

She still missed her father even now, ten years after his death. She thought about him every day….

3. In dialogue (start a new line every time someone speaks)

For example:

“Hello?” she called “Is there anyone here?”

Her voice echoed in the darkness. Suddenly she heard heavy footsteps behind her. Before she had a chance to turn she heard a gruff male voice.

“Who are you and what do you want?”

*Remember, when you start a new paragraph you need to start a new line and indent.*

Grammar

Grammar is very important in making your ideas clear. You should know the errors that you often make and be checking for these. However, here are some common errors:

  1. Missing/too many verbs.

Does every clause have one main verb?

X He a big man.                                  X He has is long hair.

2. Using the correct tense.

Generally, when we write prose we use the past tense, but this could be past simple, continuous or perfect.  Also, when we write dialogue that could be in the present tense. You need to check your tenses agree after you finish writing.

3. Using the correct word form.

Sometimes you will be using the correct word but the form will be incorrect, for example nouns instead of verbs and adjectives instead of adverbs.

X She walked slow home.                   X He gave her lots of good inform.

4. Missing articles.

You need to be careful to include articles. Remember, normally the first time we mention something we use ‘a’ and then after ‘the’.

For example:

There was a young girl who lived in a forest. The girl was very beautiful.

5. Your own problems.

Do you have another grammar mistake you often make?

Write it here:

_____________________________________________________________________

Vocabulary

Your vocabulary is what makes your writing come alive and be interesting. Especially when creative writing – you need to use creative words!

  1. Repeating the nouns.

Try not to repeat nouns too much, use pronouns instead.

X  At six o’clock the man entered the bar. The man sat down and ordered a drink. The man drank quickly.

2. Repeating adjectives/adverbs.

Try not to repeat adjectives or adverbs either, it is boring! There are thousands of words in English, try and find some new ones. Check your writing to see if you are always using the same vocabulary to describe things.

3. Using boring adjectives/adverbs.

Boring words are words like nice, good, happy, sad, etc. Can you find a more interesting way to say this?

4. Use similes!

Similes are an excellent way to make your writing more exciting! Look at your writing and find a boring adjective. See if you can change it to a simile.

For example:

He had blue eyes.  =  His eyes were as blue as the ocean.

When you finish writing you should always go back and read your work and check you are happy with it. It is often a good idea to read it out loud as then you will read more slowly and carefully and are more likely to notice mistakes. Or give it to a friend to read and ask their opinion, they will notice things you may have missed and might be able to give you some suggestions.

Getting some flow

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Aims: Often students (particularly EAP students) have a vague notion that they need to ‘improve their writing’. What does this mean? Well, for some students that might be working on grammatical accuracy, for others learning how to structure an essay, for others maybe expanding their vocabulary. For many though, what they really want to do is improve their writing ‘fluency’, that is to make their writing sound more natural, to ‘flow’. This isn’t an easy thing to teach though! However, apart from the (always good) advice to read, read, read, I have found this lesson to really help them to understand what you mean when you talk about writing fluency. As such it is a lesson I refer back to again and again.

Level: B2+ (and particularly good for EAP students)

Task:

1. Show the class the following text (or write one similar):

I woke up this morning. I was hungry. I didn’t have any food. It was raining. I walked to the shop with my umbrella. I bought milk and bread. I started to walk home. It was windy and there was heavy rain. My umbrella blew inside out and broke. I ran home. I got very wet. I made tea and toast. I went to bed.

Ask them: Is this a ‘good’ piece of writing? Why or why not? Is the meaning clear? How could we improve it?

What you should be able to elicit is that although the meaning is clear it is not very interesting. It has no ‘flow’. Suggestions to improve might include: varying sentence length, adding adjectives or adverbs, connecting sentences, giving more interesting details. Write any suggestions on the board.

2. Show them this text (or a similar one you have redrafted):

When I woke up this morning I was starving hungry because I hadn’t eaten any dinner the night before. I went to the kitchen to get breakfast, but my flatmates had finished all the food already and there was nothing to eat in the house. I looked out the window and saw it was raining. I was so hungry though! I decided I would just go to the corner shop to buy some food. I grabbed my umbrella and headed out.  At the shop I bought a loaf of bread and some milk. As I started walking home there was a sudden gust of wind, and my umbrella blew inside out. I heard a crack. It was completely broken! Just at that moment the rain started to pelt down really hard. I ran all the way home, but by the time I got there I was soaked through to the skin. I made some tea and toast and went back to bed.

Ask them if they think this text is better and why or why not (often they will suggest other improvements!) Ask if they can identify which of the things they had suggested before in the text and look through for examples.

3. Now it is their turn to try and improve a text. Show/give them a copy of this text.

I was tired. I was cleaning my teeth. I saw something in the mirror. I looked up it was a ghost. I screamed. My friend ran in. She said it was just the cat. I think it was a ghost.

You can give them different texts, or ask them to write simple texts and get them to swap around.

4. Ask them to swap around or read their stories out in groups and discuss what they changed, how different they are. You could even get them to collate their individual stories into one collaborative group effort.

5. Ask them what they think is meant by writing ‘flow’. You should be able to explain/elicit that it is connecting ideas together to make the writing interesting, easy to read and sound ‘natural’.

(This idea has been inspired and adapted from a lesson on Teachitworld called ‘Letting it Flow’.)

Writing a Rhyming Poem

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Aims: By the end of the class all the students should have written an 8 line rhyming poem. Although the outcome is a piece of writing, the emphasis here is really on pronunciation and rhyming words.

Level: B1 +

Task:

1.Write on the board some pairs of words that rhyme, muddle them all up. Here are some examples: cat – fat (æt), though – grow (əʊ), bird – word (ɜ:d), should – good (ʊd), cry – lie (aɪ), proud – allowed (aʊd), pay – grey (eɪ), though – go (əʊ), food – argued (ʊ:d) (These are just suggestions, the words will need to be adapted depending on the level of the class)

2. Put the class into two teams and ask them to take it in turns to come up to the board and draw a line to connect the correct pair. Award one point for a correct answer, and take a point away if they are incorrect.

3. Write the phonetic symbols up if the students are familiar with them. Drill the pairs of words. Then rub all the words out (leave the phonetic symbols if you have used them). Give them one of the words from the pair and encourage them to shout out the rhyming word (eg. Teacher: ‘Cat’, Students: ‘Fat!’).

4. If you have used the phonetic symbols now point to one of them on the board and choose a student to give you one of the words with that sound, and then get them to choose another student to give the pair (eg. Teacher (pointing to the symbol /æt/): ‘Maria?’ Maria: ‘Cat. Abdul?’ Abdul: ‘Fat’).

5. Now choose one of the words, for example ‘cat’ and put the students into small groups and give them 2 minutes to come up with as many rhyming words as they can. Put all the words on the board when you have finished, for example: cat, mat, rat, bat, fat, sat, that, etc.

6. Elicit when we might see rhymes, hopefully someone will say in poems! Tell them the class are going to write a four line poem about a cat. Ask if anyone has an idea for the first line, etc. (you can do this as a whole class or in groups). You will probably end up with something like this:

There was a cat,

who sat on a mat,

He was so very fat,

He couldn’t even catch a rat.

7. Put up an example of an 8 line rhyming poem on the board, like this (terrible) poem I wrote for this purpose (feel free to use it but, really, I won’t be offended if you don’t!)

I sat down in the park

and gazed upon the flowers,

I thought of places past,

and wished away the hours.

The day was clear and sunny,

the sky was as blue as your eyes,

the wind rippled through the air,

like the sound of your lies.

(nb. this poem uses a simile (‘the sky was as blue as your eyes’). If you haven’t looked at this structure with the class either change it or go through it quickly. There is a post on similes here though and it can be a good lead in to this lesson.)

Ask the students what they think the poem is about, how does the writer feel, what do they think has happened to them, etc. Then ask them to identify which words rhyme and highlight them on the board. I like to write up the pattern ABCB DEFE.

8. Tell the students they are going to write a poem that rhymes like the one on the board. Ask them to think of a topic or assign them one (love, nature, winter, learning English, homesickness, etc). Tell them to spend 3 minutes brainstorming some words they associate with the topic.

9. When they have brainstormed, ask them to look at their words and try to think of some words that might rhyme with them. Then ask them to try to write a poem.

10. When they have finished, put them in pairs and ask them to practice reading their poems to each other. Monitor and help with pronunciation.

11. Ask for volunteers to read their poems to the class. If they have chosen their own topics get the other students to ask if they can guess what they are about.

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