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Monthly Archives: February 2013

February Round-up

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Well, February may be the shortest month but it has seemed quite long here! In the UK we seem to be having a long, cold winter and this has been met with neverending bouts of sickness in our household. We are hoping for some more spring like days soon!

I only managed three posts this month (Writing Haikus, Very Short Stories and Newspaper Picture Articles), but my post on Very Short Stories was my most successful yet so thank you for the support!

On the world wide web and in the blogosphere the theme for the month seems to have been reading creative writing.

Nicola Prentis celebrated the publication of her first Graded Reader, The Tomorrow Mirror, with a great set of activity ideas for using Graded Readers in class. I’m a big fan of using Graded Readers with classes but I do think they can be really under-utilised by teachers so it was nice to see so many ideas to pick and choose from here.

Meanwhile, Eva Buyuksimkesyan on her blog ‘A Journey in TEFL’ wrote about some Reading Games to use with readers, novels or short stories, and set a blog challenge for more ideas so be sure to check the comments for some more ideas.

Sandy Millin was in romantic (but not of the soppy sort!) mode for Valentine’s Day with a lesson plan based on a Carol Ann Duffy poem, which also gets students reading poetry aloud.

Mike Griffin has been writing some semi-fiction for trainees on teacher training courses to read and discuss. It is a nice idea, and one that could easily be adapted for ELLs starting language courses.

In other creative writing related posts, Rachael Roberts shared some thoughts on giving feedback on writing over at ELT Resourceful. It is something I think it is even more important to think about when students are doing creative work.

And finally, over on the fabulous Film English website, Kieran Donaghy has a lesson plan involving a short film with a poem about bullying that asks students to respond with a poem or story. It would be a great class to try with teenagers.

That’s all for this month, please let me know if there is anything I have missed! Also, Creativities is now on facebook so please join me over there to discuss and share ideas about using creative writing for ELT.

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Newspaper Picture Articles

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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 is an old-favourite lesson of mine which always works well with teenagers or adults, from intermediate to advanced levels. It is a great collaborative writing activity and can work well if you have been studying newspaper language, reported speech or narrative tenses.

Aims: For groups of students to devise a newspaper story based on random pictures.

Level: B1+

Preparation: You will need to prepare several pictures (enough for 4 per every 3 students as a minimum). The best pictures are ones cut out of newspapers, the more unusual the better, and I try to avoid pictures of anyone famous. You could also use pictures from magazines, or find some on a site such as eltpics. I tend to cut good photos out of newspapers as and when I find them and keep them in a plastic wallet (and you’ll be surprised about all the uses you might find for them!)

Task:

1. Put your students into groups, 3 is the best number I find.

2. Lie the pictures face down on a table and ask one member of each group to come and choose 4 pictures at random.

3. Tell the students that the 4 pictures they have were all in a newspaper to illustrate 1 story. Ask them to try and think of a story that would connect all the stories. Give them plenty of time to discuss and come up with ideas.

4. Ask them to nominate one student to write or type the story out. Make sure all the students are involved in this stage, you could even suggest they take it in turns to write. For lower levels, what they produce will often be more like a story but for higher levels try and encourage them to write it more in the style of a newspaper article (ie. clear time, date, factual information, quotes from important people). You may want to set a word limit here too.

5. When they have finished the story, ask all the students in the group to re-read it and check for any errors.

6. Ask the groups to think of a headline for the story. Elicit what features headlines normally have (eg. use present tenses, sensational language, omission of articles/verbs, using only key words)

7. At this stage you might want to ask the students to read their articles to the class (make sure if one student has done most of the writing they don’t also read) while showing the pictures that inspired them, or you could make posters to display in class, or you could scan pictures in and put on a class blog or wiki.

(This is another one of those lessons that I got from somewhere but I have used for so many years I no longer remember where it was from originally. If anyone knows, please let me know so I can reference it – thank you!)

Very Short Stories

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“For sale: Baby shoes, Never worn.” Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway allegedly wrote the six-word story above in order to win a bet. Some say it is his best ever work.

After my last post on writing haikus I started to think about other short forms of creative writing to use in class. I haven’t written a lesson plan here, but rather some thoughts and ideas about some very short pieces of fiction that you could use for ELT.

Writing often gets pushed to one side as a class activity or set for homework but I believe by using short forms both teachers and students will enjoy writing in class without feeling like they have to sit in silence scribbling away for long stretches of time (collaborative writing is also a great way of avoiding this). Short forms also lend themselves to studying really carefully how words are used and are also good for students that find writing a bit daunting. I have listed a few different types with ideas here, from the shortest getting (a little!) longer. Despite them not requiring students to write a lot, most of them would be better for students that already have enough grasp of English and knowledge of vocabulary to be able to express themselves in different ways and control their writing.

6 Word Memoir

US online magazine Smith was inspired by Hemingway’s story and asked its readers to tell their life story in just six words. Here are some of my favourite examples:

‘Not quite what I was planning.’

‘Educated too little. Learned too much.’

‘Awkward moments make the best memories.’

‘I made everything up, except you.’

‘Got away with more than expected.’

You can find lots more on Smith’s six words site, and could even get your students to submit their own.

There are lots of circumstances where you could use these in the class. A great ‘getting to know you’ activity for more advanced students would be to get students to write a six-word memoir to introduce themselves and then ask them to mingle and discuss each other’s. I could also see it working well as a ‘getting to know you’ with business students, ask them to write a six-word memoir about their business philosophy, career, etc.

You could also use them as a Monday morning warmer, ask the students to write a six word story about their weekend, then write them all up on the board and see if they can guess who wrote which one.

Twitter Fiction

The ultimate modern short form must be twitter. The restraints of 140 characters or less doesn’t initially seem to lend itself to great works of fiction, however,  the Guardian newspaper in the UK has a series on ‘twitter fiction’ where they ask famous writers to come up with a story within the constraints of a tweet. Here are a couple of examples, you could even use them as a reading task:

‘Mother love is strong enough to lift a car. I’d heard that. But when my girl was hit by a Mercedes, I heaved, screaming. Nothing moved.’ – Esther Freud

‘Life is always flashing before your eyes. Look down. Children playing, trees and traffic, your shadow running over the ground to meet you.’ – Mark Haddon

‘Darkness. I woke, felt the familiar weight in the bed, the breathing, the hand on my skin. “Oh, Paul,” I said. “Who’s Paul?” said the voice.’ – Nicci French

I like the idea of giving students a story prompt (a picture, opening line, title, etc) and asking students to brainstorm some ideas for a story. Only after they had come up with some ideas would I tell them they needed to write the story in a tweet (140 characters or less). It is a great way to practice editing and reformulating ideas. You basically have to condense the idea of a story into one image or idea, which is easier said than done! Students can tweet their stories to @twitterfiction.

Classics as Tweets

Staying on the twitter theme, there is also a tongue in cheek movement of reducing great works of fiction to a single tweet. For example:

Woman meets man called Darcy who seems horrible. He turns out to be nice really. They get together. – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Upper-class woman gets it on with gamekeeper. – Lady Chatterley’s Lover by DH Lawrence

Orphan given £££ by secret follower. He thinks it’s @misshavisham but it turns out to be @magwitch – Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

You could ask the students to try this activity as a follow-up to reading a graded reader, or even write them about each other’s stories by swapping round longer stories that they have written and converting them to tweets. It feeds in nicely to the ideas of ‘getting the main idea’ that are so beloved of reading tests! If your students come up with any for famous books you could get them to tweet them with the hashtag #twitternovels.

Microfiction (100 word stories)

Microfiction (sometimes known as flash fiction, short short stories, sudden fiction, postcard stories, etc) comes in many guises and forms. There are story competitions for microfiction with word limits from 100 to 1000 words. In class I like to stick with the 100 word rule, and to enforce this as exactly 100 words (not 99 or 101!). I have used this task several times with EAP students because I think it is a really good way of getting them to focus on editing skills. At University there are often very strict word limits and I know, for me, I found writing within these limits meant I had to become really ruthless at cutting words or reformulating ideas to be more economical with the language. It is also useful for students who will be taking exams where there are word limits (IELTS for example). Often students have no real idea of what 100 words look like, so they find it hard to imagine 200 words, 300 words, etc. If you give them practice at writing exactly 100 words and they are familiar with this it is easy for them to imagine it doubled, etc. If you ask them to write it by hand (if the test is hand-written) then it is even better as they can see how much space 100 words takes up in their own handwriting.

There are several sites with examples of 100 word stories, and Reader’s Digest magazine even has a competition you could encourage your students to enter (there are also some great examples of 100 word stories on that site). Again, I would just use a story prompt such as a photo, object, first line, etc to give them the stimulus. You don’t have to use fiction either, you could get them to write exactly 100 words on any topic, and could choose a subject related to their area of study for EAP students (although fiction is more fun!)

 

I hope this post has inspired you to try writing some very short stories with your class. If you do, let me know how it goes, and if you have any other ideas about short form writing I would love to hear about them too.

Writing Haikus

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

I love writing Haikus in class! They are simple, fun and almost everyone can write a good haiku. They are also an interesting way of talking  about syllables and word stress. I have had success in using them from elementary to advanced students.

For those unfamiliar with the form, Haikus are traditional Japanese poems that consist of three lines. The first line has 5 syllables, the second 7 and the third 5. They are often concerned with nature (Haikus are much more complicated than this and there are lots of different ideas and rules about them but this is the simplest way to explain them when using in the EFL classroom!)

Aim: For students to write at least one haiku and to practise the pronunciation of it.

Level: A2+

1. Write the following two haikus on the board, but don’t tell your students what they are yet. You may need to teach some vocabulary, particularly icicles, spirals and chimney from the second haiku, I suggest simple drawings.

New life all around,

Birds singing, flowers blooming.

The Earth stirs again.

 

Icicles drop down,

Breath spirals like chimney smoke,

Chilly silence falls.

 

2. Ask the students what they think the two ‘poems’ have in common. They may come up with ideas such as: They are both 3 lines, they are both about weather/nature/seasons (you can ask them to identify the seasons: the first is spring, the second winter), they are both poems, they are both short, etc.

3. If nobody has noticed they both have the same syllable pattern, elicit this by reading the poems slowly and counting the syllables clearly on your fingers. Write the number of syllables next to the lines of the haikus.

4. Explain to the class that these are Haikus and talk to them about the background (as explained above). Elicit the other two seasons (summer and autumn) and write these on the board. Tell them that Haikus are often concerned with nature and elicit some other ideas of topics and write them in a list or brainstorm cloud on the board. Some ideas might be: animals, the sea, trees, plants, woods, rivers, mountains, etc.

5. Tell the class they are now going to write their own haiku and it must follow the following rules:

  • It must be three lines long
  • It must be 17 syllables in the pattern 5-7-5
  • It must be about nature (you don’t have to include this one if you think your class would rather write about another topic)

6. Monitor as the students write their haikus and help with counting syllables. If some students finish quickly ask them to write another haiku and wait until all the class has at least one before moving on the next step.

7. Divide the class into pairs and ask them to swap haikus and check that they are happy that their partner’s haiku follows the three rules.

8. Read the ‘spring’ haiku that is on the board to your students. When you have finished just read the first line. Ask them where the stress is on ‘around’ (the second syllable). If they are unsure say it with the stress on the first syllable and ask them if that is correct. Ask them where the stress is on ‘new’ and elicit that as it is only 1 syllable the stress is on this one syllable (ie. the whole word). Go through the haikus and mark the stresses on until you have something like this:

                              ●

New life all around,

           ●            ●                ●

Birds singing, flowers blooming.

                               ●

The Earth stirs again.

 

Icicles drop down,

              ●                  ●

Breath spirals like chimney smoke,

●          ●

Chilly silence falls.

9. Drill the haikus line by line with the class, concentrating on the word stresses. If your students are willing, ask for volunteers to read them to the class.

10. Ask the students to look at their own haikus (if they have written more than one they can choose their favourite) and to mark the word stresses on the words of more than 1 syllable. If they are unsure about where the stress is, they can use an English-English dictionary (paper or digital). Show how the stress is marked in by an apostrophe in the pronunciation.

11. When the students have finished marking the stresses, ask them to practice reading their haikus aloud to their partner. Monitor and check pronunciation and stress.

12. Ask each student to read their haiku to the class. You could ask the other class members to guess which the topic each one is about.

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