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A confidence-building creative writing activity for lower levels

Writer(s): 
Julian Pigott , Osaka Shoin Women’s University

 

Quick guide

  • Key words:Creative writing, group work, story-telling, holidays
  • Learner English level:Beginner to intermediate
  • Learner maturity level:Junior high school to adult
  • Preparation time:10 minutes
  • Activity time:20 to 40 minutes
  • Materials:Worksheet (see below)

Introduction

Japanese junior high school students do a lot of writing at school, but such writing tends to be mechanical rather than creative. Copying out vocabulary and grammatical forms for the purpose of rote memorisation may lead to the type of proficiency required to pass exams, but is unlikely in itself to spark an intrinsic interest in using English creatively. I tried the following activity—based on an old party game—with my junior high school classes at Halloween time, and it proved a runaway success. As well as being fun, I sensed that the students enjoyed it because it was a breath of fresh air for those who associated English writing with drudgery. I see no reason why more motivated and mature students might not also enjoy and benefit from this activity.

The writing in this activity takes place at the sentence level, and can be simple or complex, depending on the individual student. Because every student relies on every other student in class for its successful implementation, this activity is also good for class dynamics and participation.

Preparation

Prepare a handout for the students with a story title at the top, for example “Halloween”, “Christmas”, or “Love story”. The title can be based on national holidays or a theme that you have covered recently in class. Under this title draw 10-15 blank lines. Prepare one sheet for each student.

Procedure

Step 1:Tell students that they will be doing a fun, creative writing activity. Introduce the title, and brainstorm some ideas about how you may start a story. A funny example is the best way to start. For example: “Once upon a time there was an ugly monster who lived in our school.” Depending on the level of the students, you may want to “elicit” a second line (e.g., “The monster’s name was [insert student/teacher’s name here for comic effect]”), or ask the students to suggest what the monster’s hobby is, or what he/she looks like. However, take care to emphasise that these are just ideas—the direction in which the students wish to take their own stories is entirely up to them. More confident students may take this advice. Less confident students may borrow from your examples.

Step 2: Give out a sheet to each student and encourage students to write their first line.

Step 3: Students pass the paper to the classmate next to them. So that there is a continuous flow of papers around the class, the teacher may have to courier paper from the last student in the line to the first.

Step 4: The students read the opening line and then pen another line that continues the narrative. They now fold the paper so only the line they have just written is visible, and then pass the paper again. Repeat until the stories are finished. The idea is that the stories will have some cohesion from line to line, but very little overall, resulting in an unpredictable, comic, finished product.

Story time

Read the stories out dramatically for the students to enjoy (when I did this activity at Halloween I wore a headlamp and related the stories in the dark). If concentration begins to lapse, consider extending the activity by continuing to read out the stories in Japanese. Doing so enables many more stories to be covered in a short amount of time. In addition, students find it amusing to hear how silly their stories sound when translated into Japanese. In fact, the more nonsensical the stories are and the more errors they contain, the more students seem to enjoy them!

If you run out of time, you can save some of the stories for a later lesson, or leave them at the front of the classroom for the students to peruse at their leisure.

Conclusion

This activity is fun, and gets students writing enthusiastically and creatively. From a practical point of view, it is an enjoyable way to spend a post-test lesson or some other time when everyone needs to wind down and there are no immediate curriculum deadlines. However, I think that such activities could quite conceivably be incorporated into a curriculum, for example as part of an extensive writing program.

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