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Monthly Archives: May 2013

May Round-up

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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.

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

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

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

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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.

Task:

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.

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