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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.


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.

March Round-up


I know it’s a couple of days early for the March round-up but I am going to be far too busy eating chocolate at the weekend! It’s been a busy, cold month here. We’re still waiting for Spring to arrive (I struggled to find a brave daffodil in bloom for the photo above!) I finally published the post that hopefully explains what I am trying to do on this blog (Why use Creative Writing in ELT?) as well as posts on fairy tales and another on similes. There has been lots of other interesting things on creative writing happening around the web though.

This month I discovered Umes Shrestha’s blog ‘Oh, late became!’. Umes is a Nepali English teacher, and a fan of using creative writing. His blog is an eclectic mix of gems, but this month I particularly enjoyed his lesson plan using a Nepali folk story and his post sharing student poems as published in a local newspaper. He also shared some haikus his class had written.

Right at the beginning of the month, Josette LeBlanc shared a rather hypnotic, meditative short story on her blog, ‘Throwing Back Tokens’. I thought the use of photos in the story would be a lovely thing to explore in class with students’ stories, especially ones about personal experiences.

Kevin Stein shared one of his favourite creative writing lessons with a lesson plan called ‘But Is it Art?’, combining writing about and drawing works of abstract art.

I also came across a ‘storytelling gapfill’ activity, ‘Elf Story’, on Jamie Keddie’s  ‘Lessonstream’ site.  I could see this working really well with all sorts of stories and is a great way of encouraging students to do intensive listening and think about lexical chunks.

Using comic strips is a great way of getting students to play around with narratives and dialogue, and also being economical with words (another form of very short stories perhaps?). This post by Christina Martidou has lots of great links, and teaching ideas for using comic strips in class, great for young learners and teenagers, but also fun for adults too.

Kieran Donaghy shared another great lesson plan on Film English which incorporates a short film, creative writing and a poem by Leonard Cohen (although I’m still feeling upset that Leonard Cohen is writing poems for Sony!)

Finally, I was sent a link to an article by Scott Stillar in this month’s TESOL Journal about using creative writing to raise critical consciousness by letter writing. I thought it was a very interesting idea, and one that could be easily adapted to other teaching contexts.

That’s all for this month, and happy Easter if you are celebrating it.

As Simple as a Simile


This kitten is as cute as a button!

Similes are a structure that are used perhaps more than we realise, both colloquially in speech (at least around where I live in South London you hear them a lot, although most of those I wouldn’t teach students…!) and also in literature and poetry. Teaching them gives students both a structure they can use in their own creative writing, but also teaches them some well-known phrases that they will probably encounter. I’ve also found that most languages have a similar structure so it is interesting to compare whether the same or different words are used in similes in the students’ L1s and to discuss why they think these words are used.

The activities below focus on the ‘as (adjective) as (noun)’ simile structure.

Aim: To learn a simile structure, to practise and create their own similes and to learn some common English expressions.

Level: A2+


1. Write the following conversation on the board and underline ‘as good as gold’:

Parent: How was little Gemma today?

Babysitter: She’s been as good as gold.

Elicit what ‘as good as gold’ means (very good). Ask the students when they think you would use this phrase (normally about children, but sometimes pets, adults. It normally refers to behaviour). Ask if they have a similar structure in their language. Why do they think they are compared to ‘gold’? Ask them what type of word ‘good’ is (adjective)? Ask them what type of word ‘gold’ is (noun)?

2. Write the following beginnings of similes up on the board. Space them out well as you will have more to write around them.

1. As light as ______________________

2. As easy as _____________________

3. As pretty as ____________________

4. As blind as _____________________

5. As cold as ______________________

6. As clear as ______________________

7. As dead as ______________________

8. As deaf as _______________________

9. As free as ________________________

10. As quick as _______________________

11. As mad as __________________________

12. As white as _________________________

13. As tough as _________________________

14. As sick as __________________________

Put your students into small groups. Ask the groups what type of word they will need to complete the simile with (nouns). Ask them to try and think of a noun to complete each simile with and give them some time to discuss and complete.

3. Write up all the students’ suggestions on the board and discuss the reasons for any that seem less obvious. Students will probably have some that are the same as the common ones we use in English but also some different ones. When you have all their ideas, go back to the beginning and ask if they know which would be the most common expression in English. Here are the ones I consider the most common (it might be different for you depending on where you are from/learnt English so feel free to teach the expression most natural to you).

1. feather, 2. pie, 3. picture, 4. bat, 5. ice, 6. day/mud (mud has the opposite, sarcastic meaning for something not clear at all), 7. dodo,, 9. bird, 10.flash/lightening, 11. hatter (you might need to explain this is a reference to ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and the Mad Hatter, 12. sheet, 13. nails, 14. parrot/dog

You can also discuss whether they compare the same things in their culture.

(A nice alternative to the above exercise, especially for lower levels, is to write all the adjectives on one colour of card and the nouns on another colour and try to match them up)

4. Ask the groups of students to discuss some ideas about what object/person they could use each of the similes to describe. For example, ‘as cold as ice’: hands after being out on a winter’s day.  Give them time to discuss while you go round and monitor and help with suggestions for any they are stuck on.

5. Ask for feedback for some ideas and write them all on the board. Try and only accept things that would sound natural in English, although feel free to praise creativity for any more unusual ideas!

6. Ask each student to choose one simile and idea for what it can describe and to write a short descriptive paragraph (100 words?) about the subject. They should include an appropriate simile, but can also use others that they invent if they like. Alternatively, these ideas work well before moving into the lesson on ‘Writing a Rhyming Poem’. You can then ask them to write a poem with a simile.

February Round-up


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.

Writing Haikus


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

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.

Writing a Rhyming Poem


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 +


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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