Creativity is often cited as one of the 21st Century skills we need to be teaching our students. Being creative seems to be an inherent part of what we think helps us to be good teachers. But why is creativity so important in language classrooms? And what exactly do we mean by creative thinking skills? I’ve run a number of workshops and training sessions recently which look at these questions and explore how we can nurture a culture of creativity in our classrooms, demonstrating practical ideas for exploiting images, video, poetry and online tools, and looking at the use of frameworks to encourage learners to actively and creatively engage in the learning process.
I like to think that the materials I write can act as a springboard to encourage teachers to be creative in their teaching and allow learners opportunities to be expressive with their language. Several of the ideas I use mention the wonderful ELTpics as a resource, so we thought it would make sense for me to write them up for you here.
1 A Story in Five Frames
This idea was inspired by this website: Five Card flickr stories
Put students into small groups and set them up to play a round (or two) of Five Card flickr. Students work together to create stories by choosing from five random pictures selected from Flickr. The random nature of the selection ensures that students put their creative thinking hats on, and you’d be surprised at what they can come up with. Obviously, if you wanted to focus on specific language, you might look at narrative tenses, or useful language for telling stories (e.g. time linkers: as soon as, by the time, during, while, etc. ) Or story-telling discourse markers like: In this story….Before long…All of a sudden…Anyway….In the end etc.
The same activity works well with ELTpics. Get your students in groups to choose pictures from ELTpics to make short stories. You can make it into a game by getting students to choose the first picture and a title, before passing their story to the next group, who write the beginning of the story, and pass it to the next group who continue the story etc. The group with the best story at the end win some chocolate.
2 Getting Emotional
This idea uses some ‘emotional pictures’ as a prompt for speaking and then poetry writing.
Choose some pictures from the emotions set on ELTpics. I particularly like these ones: Photos taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @sandymillin @VictoriaB52 @dfogarty @acliltoclimb, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial licence, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/
Ask the students the following questions:
What emotions do you think this person is feeling?
Why do you think the person feels like this?
It’s a good idea to try and include a few ambiguous photos here, so that students have something to say. They may disagree with each other
Tell students that actually there are only six basic emotions, which are recognised by all humans by their facial expressions. Can the students guess what the six basic emotions are? (Answer at the end of this post)
Get students to talk about situations in their lives when they have experienced any of these emotions, e.g. a time when they were surprised, happy, or angry etc.
Now, it’s time to look at the poems. When I do poetry with students, I like to take them out of the classroom, maybe to a park, or garden, or somewhere where they can breathe fresh air and feel inspired. First of all, I get students to think about the different senses; what can they hear/see/smell? This can bring up a lot of interesting language (especially if you’re sitting in a London park!).
Using some of the language and ideas, I get students working together to choose an emotion and write a poem following a simple framework. Here are a couple of poems that my Intermediate students wrote:
What I love about this activity is that by giving students the framework and a bit of creative inspiration, you enable them to come up with something really special. Most of my students have never written poems before coming to the class, let alone written a poem in English. It is a hugely confidence-boosting activity. And sometimes the results are spectacular. I like to read the poems aloud too and work on rhythm and stress patterns.
‘Poetry is important because it makes us think, it opens us up to wonder at the sometimes astonishing possibilities of language’ – John Burnside
3 A Museum Of Me
This last idea was inspired by a museum exhibition which ran a while ago at the Oxo Tower Wharf called ‘A Museum Of Me’. Visitors were asked to become a part of the exhibition by writing about their dreams, hopes and other secrets and putting their ideas into a tin, or adding them to the exhibition, and reading what others had written.
Go to ELTpics and choose a few pictures which you think say something about you, or your life. Put the pictures into a mosaic maker like this. So, what do you think these pictures say about me? (Answers on a postcard, please)
Image made using photos taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by@melgarrish @asalinguist @antoniaclare @worldteacher @sandymillin @thornburyscott, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial licence, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/
Show the collage to the students and get them to guess information about you and your life. I often use this activity at the beginning of a course, when meeting with a new group of students. It’s a great get-to-know-you. The obvious follow-on is to get students to make their own collage. Here, you can stick with tradition; give the students a load of magazines, scissors and glue (we are ELT teachers, after all) and get them to cut out pictures that mean something to them, and make them into a poster collage. Or, if you want to involve them in some digital literacy at the same time, just send them to ELTpics and let the mosaicmaker do the rest. (For more ideas similar to this one, see our earlier post Could be, might be, must be… )
I strongly believe that creativity is at the heart of real, genuine learning. We can teach students grammar, CEF statements and skills objectives, but if we fail to engage students’ creative processes, then the real learning is likely not to be there.
If you’re interested, I have made a Scoopit Magazine with various teaching ideas and articles relating to creativity and creative thinking here:
Antonia Clare is a teacher, trainer and materials writer whose special interests include creativity and the use of video and new technologies in ELT. She has taught and trained in many countries around the world, including Italy, Spain, Hong Kong, Portugal, Poland and the UK and is a co-author for Language-to-Go, Total English, English in Common and the award-winning series Speakout (published in partnership with the BBC).
P.S The Answer: The Six Basic Emotions are: anger, disgust, fear, joy, sadness and surprise (Speakout Intermediate p68)