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Creative Writing

January 14, 2009

Hello again,

I have got off to a slow start this year for reasons that are not worth mentioning but I will try to make up for lost blogs!

I received a query recently from a teacher who ...

....was sceptical about the value of creative writing in ELT. After all, he claimed, they make so many mistakes, their creative work wouldn’t be much good. Actually, I think he’s wrong. I believe that even at the very beginning students can gain from creative writing.

Let me give you an example. Many years ago I started to learn Russian. After a few lessons, the teacher asked us to write a poem. We all protested that we didn’t know enough of the language to do that. But he insisted. I remember to this day what I wrote and I translate:
Red sun,
Hot sun,
The sun came out yesterday,
There is no sun today.
Yesterday I was smiling.
Today I am sad.
You make me happy, red sun.
(Kрасно cолнце,
горяче cолнце,
Солнце пришло вне вчера,
туда никакое солнце сегодня.
Вчера я усмехался.
Сегодня я уныл.
Вы делаете меня счастливым, красно солнце.)

Okay, it’s hardly poet laureate stuff. But it gave me great pleasure and a sense of achievement to write my own piece of original Russian. And what was fascinating to the class was the variety in the poems people devised. In one, a window looked at the changing weather outside in the garden. In another a car talked to its driver. The whole class made something from the small amount of language we had learned. I think the learner has a real sense of ownership of language when s/he writes personally and this helps motivate the learner to look for new language. It is a different experience from always responding to exercises devised by others.

Of course, many students are sceptical of their ability to be creative, and the teacher may need to help. One way is to provide a framework. You can try putting three columns on the board then asking the students to suggest nouns for column 1, verbs for column 2 and adverbs for column 3. Then ask them to use those words in their poems or stories. Or the teacher could give them word sets: e.g. adjectives that are all dark and sombre or verbs that express human movement. Almost any cue is enough to get imaginations working.

And what about errors? Well, use peer correction and teacher correction for glaring mistakes but try not to be too pedantic. Let students read their work aloud to the class and really enjoy the experience of creating something of their own in English.

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Comments

  1. Bert Pursoo Says:

    I agree that Creative Writing for ELT, while not worthless,is hardly worth the effort.
    Many native speakers are not capable of creative writing. Think of the student who is unfamiliar with the myriads of idiomatic expressions and the idiosyncrasies of the English Language.
    Please don't misunderstand me but your poem in Russian as translated into English would hardly qualify as Creative Writing.

  1. Lena Says:

    i really liked this post. i don't have any contribution to make to it, yet it gave me pleasure to read about your experience.
    i might repeat the 'experiment' in one of my classes :)
    Thank you.

  1. Graham Paterson Says:

    I definitely agree that creative writing is a very useful and rewarding learning tool. I had a class of young Chinese students aimed at improving their use of the English language. I gave them the task to write a 4 line poem and one little 8 year old girl came up with ;
    I love to fly,
    Way up in the sky,
    Just like the bird,
    Whose song I heard.
    With my larger writing class of 2nd year Uni Students, I gave them the weekly task of writing one 500 word "chapter" of a story over the duration of a semester. The lesson time dealt with all aspect of writing a story, plot, characterisation, timing, dialogue etc. The final "exam" was based on presenting each of their "polished" weekly "chapters" rewritten into a single book.
    The result was quite amazing because it produced an unique composition for each student which they proudly took home to their parents. More importantly, the exercise provided a sense of purpose and continuity for the writing compared to random and less connected exercises based on a textbook approach.

  1. maggie Says:

    I had to stop teaching in my country and move in order to take a Master's Degree in Creative Writing. I sometimes find myself wondering whether it was right or not to quit my jobs and study something that's not supposed to be taught.
    I am not sure about myself, but I know I'm happy and the most rewarding writing activities I had with my fifth/sixth graders used to be about creative tasks.
    I remember, once, we were supposed to write a recipe. BO-RING!!! I had to come out with some spice for it, so we ended up making insect pizzas (of course, with the whole bunch of vocabulary, cooking verbs, measures, tools, everything)
    We first created a group recipe(it must have taken about 5 minutes, since the writing task was just a way to wrap up a whole unit about food and cooking) and then my students got to write their own recipes.
    Those are silly little things that make me miss my job :-( :-)

  1. Tara Says:

    I have recently been getting my junior high class to write short stories. To help them I have pictures from magazines or interesting ones that I have taken that are laminated. Each student gets a picture and they can use it as inspiration.

    We also do story telling where one person starts with one or 2 sentences and the next student has to continue and so on. It can be really fun as the story sometimes takes a strange or interesting turn.

  1. Tara Says:

    I have recently been getting my junior high class to write short stories. To help them I have pictures from magazines or interesting ones that I have taken that are laminated. Each student gets a picture and they can use it as inspiration.

    We also do story telling where one person starts with one or 2 sentences and the next student has to continue and so on. It can be really fun as the story sometimes takes a strange or interesting turn.

  1. Susan Birkenshaw Says:

    Whether or not the lesson is considered a success in finding the next famous writer, it will support the students in grasping the concept of "creative".

    Especially in the realm of business, creativity in marketing, etc is a must!

    I also think that your poem was gutsy given the language you were learning at the time.

  1. Anne Mac Leish Says:

    Writing is very helpful! You remember more when you write whether ur 16 or 60! Sometimes I give dictation,it covers all skills. pc is ruining writing! Anne Mac Leish

  1. Jeff Says:

    Hi, if that isn't creative writing, what is it? I agree that creative writing is wonderful, even for beginners. It boosts confidence and is a great way to improve vocabulary.

    Cheers,

    Jeff

  1. Loz Says:

    Bert, you're confusing creative writing with your own opinion of what has artistic merit.

    From an EFL point of view, whether you think the final result is any good or not is completely beside the point. Also, if Brenda's poem "hardly qualifies" as creative writing, I'd be interested if you could give us a rundown of what your criteria is.

  1. Evanne Fineberg Says:

    I think this is a wonderful teaching suggestion. I look forward to trying it sometime. Thank you for sharing.

  1. Brenda Townsend Hall Says:

    I'm glad this item has sparked discussion.

    I don't think I would make any claims for artistic merit, either of my own attempts at a poem in Russian or my students' efforts in English. But that's not the point. So many of the tasks we set our students stifle rather than stimulate the imagination. When we allow them to do what they want with words, they have a real sense of owning their work and of seeing the target language as a personal asset. The process is both enjoyable and satisfying.

    However modest the achievement, the completion of an original piece of writng helps motivate them to want to write more and to a higher standard. For these reasons I think it's a worthwhile activity.

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