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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.

March Round-up

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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.

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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