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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.

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.

Re-imagining Fairy Tales


A recent thread on a parenting forum about whether or not we should be reading Cinderella to our children reminded me of this activity I used to enjoy doing with my students. I’ve always loved the dark side of fairy tales – the side that doesn’t get into Disney films! If you haven’t read it, you should really get a copy of Angela Carter’s ‘The Bloody Chamber’. With advanced students I have read and discussed her version of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, which she calls ‘The Werewolf’ before doing the second half of this writing task. It is a very short story (2 pages) but is very dense and quite difficult for all but good advanced learners. Even though this activity is about fairy tales it is not necessarily a task for young learners, although you could use it with them without the reading and rather than re-writing the stories for adults you could just re-write them set in modern times. As the lesson is described here though, it should be a writing activity that teenagers and adults enjoy. It is a good activity on editing and re-drafting, and would be a nice, interesting follow-up to my lesson plan on ‘Getting some flow’.

Aim: For students to write two versions of different fairy tales, one for children and one for adults.

Level: B2 + (although particularly successful with C1 if you use the reading too)


1. Ask students if they read fairy tales when they were growing up, or watched movies about them. Brainstorm some different names of fairy tales and write the names on the board (often the names translated differently into English so sometimes you need to do a bit of detective work to work out which story they mean!). Some of the stories might be from your students cultures and unfamiliar to you.

2. Ask your class if they know the phrases that we normally use to begin and end fairy tales in English and teach the phrases ‘Once upon a time….’ and ‘Everyone lived happily ever after…’

3. Put the students into pairs or small groups and ask them to brainstorm some different vocabulary that commonly comes up in fairy tales for a couple of minutes then write the vocab they think of on the board. You will probably have words such as: Prince, princess, step-mother, fairy godmother, dwarf, castle, etc… Again, you might need to help with some of the translations as they can sometimes be different in different languages.

4. Ask the students to each choose their favourite fairy tale, or at least one they remember well. It doesn’t matter if it is not a really famous one, it might be one from their own culture.

5. Tell the students to imagine they are going to tell this story to a young child. They should write the story as simply and clearly as they can using simple vocabulary and short sentences.

6. OPTIONAL: This is the point when I would do the reading activity if you wanted to. First, I would give them a traditional version of Little Red Riding Hood, written for children, to read, such as this one. Then I would ask them to read Angela Carter’s ‘The Werewolf’. Students can compare and contrast: Which aspects are the same in both stories? Which parts of the story are different? How is the language different? How is the atmosphere created different (and how is this done)?

7. Put the students into pairs. Try and pair them up with someone who has written about a different fairy tale if possible. Ask them to swap stories. It shouldn’t matter if they don’t know the story their partner has written about as there should hopefully be enough information in the story.

8. Tell them they are going to re-write their partner’s story, but write it for adults. Discuss what changes they could make, i.e changing the ending (i.e do people really live happily ever after?), changing the time setting (making it modern?), bringing out the darker elements of the story (the death, dark magic, etc).

9. Give students time to re-write the stories. You might want to set this for homework to give them time to think about it and write.

10. When the students have written their new stories they should swap back with their partner to read the new versions and then they can discuss which versions they like best, how they have changed it, etc. It’s a nice idea to publish the stories on a class blog or wiki if you have one.

This lesson is based on and inspired by ‘Writing: Creative Writing’ from One Stop English.

Newspaper Picture Articles


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

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!)


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!)

January Round-up


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!

Chain Story Activity


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

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+


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.

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