Дата публикации 18.10.2021
Использование приемов креативного письма в обучении английскому языку учеников средней школы
Колотева Мария Евгеньевна
магистрант института международного образования, Московский педагогический государственный университет РФ, г. Москва
Смирнова Наталья Владимировна
канд. филол. наук, доцент кафедры английского языка и цифровых образовательных технологий, Московский педагогический государственный университет, РФ, г. Москва, Natalia22L2016@yandex.ru
Аннотация: В статье рассматривается исследование по созданию эффективной стратегии формирования продуктивных навыков письма на занятиях по английскому языку в средней общеобразовательной школе. Статья посвящена описанию основных методов креативного письма (обучение прозе и поэзии). Авторы предпринимают попытку выявить влияние креативного письма для повышения эффективности обучения. Статья содержит оценку сравнительной эффективности обучения креативному письму. Авторы предлагают методику эффективного использования креативного письма для обучения учащихся разных уровней языковой подготовки. Статья содержит описание результатов эксперимента по использованию данных походов при обучении английскому языку учащихся классов средней школы.
Ключевые слова: креативное письмо, формирование продуктивных языковых навыков, повышение мотивации учащихся.
Master student of Institute of International Education, Moscow State Pedagogical University, Russia, Moscow
Cand. Sci. (Philology), assistant professor of English language and IT technologies department, Moscow State Pedagogical University, Russia, Moscow
Abstract: The article presents a study devoted to creation of an effective strategy for students' productive writing skills building at ESL classes in secondary school. The article makes an attempt to find out the main methods of implementing creative writing into the English language lessons. The study traces the way creative writing affects language learning. The article investigates the comparative effectiveness of teaching creative writing in accordance with the suggested model. The authors introduce programs based on various teaching creative writing methods (writing poetry, stories, creating mind maps) for each level based on secondary school syllabus. The article introduces the results of the conducted experiment with the use of creative writing at ESL classes of secondary school.
Keywords: creative writing, productive language skills building, students’ motivation
Колотева М.Е., Смирнова Н.В.Использование приемов креативного письма в обучении английскому языку учеников средней школы // Филологический аспект: международный научно-практический журнал. Сер.: Методика преподавания языка и литературы. 2021. № 07 (10). Режим доступа: https://scipress.ru/fam/articles/ispolzovanie-priemov-kreativnogo-pisma-v-obuchenii-anglijskomu-yazyku-uchenikov-srednej-shkoly.html (Дата обращения: 18.10.2021)
Teaching creative writing can be roughly divided into two categories depending on the final goal. The first category is aimed at raising future writers, poets or any other literary figures, it usually takes the form of a Bachelor’s or Master’s programme at universities as well as short intensive courses. The second category’s goal is to use creative writing as a tool in teaching a second language.
Researchers distinguish four modes of writing (expository, descriptive, narrative and argumentative), concerning categorizing Creative Writing, linguistic sources differ; sometimes it is listed as the fifth category, sometimes it is seen as a form of narrative writing.
It is hard to say when creative writing was first used as a tool in language learning, but the interest to it has greatly increased over the last decades. One of the many supporters of this approach is A. Maley, who has written numerous articles on the importance of creative writing in language classrooms as well as resource books for teachers of English, containing hundreds of activities.
In his article “Creative writing for language learners (and teachers)” Maley firstly distinguishes between creative writing and expository writing and says that, although, the line between these two is not “carved in stone”, the former one has to do more with emotions and imagination. Secondly, he states that creative writing helps improve such features of the language as grammar, vocabulary, phonology and discourse. Thirdly, he claims that creative writing involves the right part of kid’s brain more, whereas much of the teaching focuses on the left one, so those who might not be the left-brain dominant will find this way of learning easier and more exciting. Fourthly, Maley speaks about the increase in self-confidence, which as we all know makes the learning process much more enjoyable. Maley also gives some useful tips on how to keep students motivated such as “promote the development of group cohesiveness”, “provide students with regular experiences of success” and “make learning stimulating and enjoyable by increasing the attractiveness of the task”, which I will definitely use in the practical part of my work.
While creative writing has long existed in its various forms in western education, Russia has only recently started discovering its benefits. However, if we consider creative writing as a tool in teaching languages and English, in particular, it becomes obvious that Russian schools are not fully aware of the potential benefits it has, as it is taught very rarely in our language classrooms. If a teacher uses creative writing techniques in their classroom, it happens not because syllabus requires it, but because of their own professional preferences and beliefs. English textbooks in Russia mostly focus on the preparation for the final exam’s tasks, which include writing a personal letter and an essay, so writing in Russian schools is all about memorizing the structure and some key vocabulary (like linking words and phrases for essays). Nevertheless, sometimes textbooks offer writing exercises on personal topics, but they are usually given for homework and are not aimed at discovering and playing with the language.
There is usually very little time left for writing activities in the classroom, especially now when the 80/20 rule (80% students talking time, 20% teacher talking time) is very popular among teachers. Even when there is some time for writing it is almost always spent on the tasks of the examination type.
Creative writing is good for practicing not only writing skills, but grammar and vocabulary as well, it also stretches imagination, develops creativity and builds self-confidence. The sense of playfulness makes it more exciting for students and it may also benefit it getting them interested in reading English literature.
Alan Maley in his article “Creative writing for students and teachers” [Maley, 2012] notes some characteristics of creative writing contrasting them to the characteristics of expository writing. He presents the following table:
Appeal to the intellect
Avoidance of ambiguity
Feeling mode (plus thinking)
Appeal to the senses
Creation of multiple meanings
Expository writing usually has a framework to follow, you need to keep in mind a certain register of appropriate language for that specific piece of writing. Maley says “The aim of expository writing is to be logical, consistent and impersonal and to convey the content as unambiguously as possible to the reader” [Maley, 2012].
In case of creative writing students use their imagination and feelings, it is a personal experience. However, it is wrong to propose that this activity does not involve thought as inventing a plot or creating a poem’s structure does need some thinking, especially if the student knows that one piece can be read on different levels.
Many teachers can object and say that only students of higher levels are able to use the language creatively as it involves complicated structures and a wide range of vocabulary. In fact, on the contrary, the less students know, the more they will try to make better use of it. In her article, Gill James presents some activities that can be done with beginners, she states that “the learner should use the language creatively as soon as they can” [James, 2006].
Maley presents the results of his small-scale survey to justify the usage of creative writing in language classrooms. He conducted it among around 50 leading ELT professionals and teachers. In the following table you can see some results of Maley’s survey describing aspects that are positively affected by creative writing:
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Significant improvements in grammatical accuracy, stress, intonation, appropriacy and originality of lexical choice, sensitivity to rhythm and rhyme.
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Students more eagerly play with the language.
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Guilt-free atmosphere encourages learners to take risks, doing so they start to discover not only the language, but also themselves and develop a “second language personality”.
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The focus is on intuition, feelings and physical sensations.
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Leads to increase in motivation.
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Learners develop a better understanding of textual construction.
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By helping learners develop their unique voice, it makes their factual writing more genuinely expressive.
In the following five subchapters I will look more closely at such aspects as lexis, grammar, sentence structure, understanding and self-expression and how they might be affected by creative writing.
As it has already been mentioned learners can begin exploring the target language and using it creatively starting from the very beginning of their learning. Even with the limited amount of words students know, they should be able to write a short story or a poem. Creative writing can be used both for practicing new lexical items as well as revising the ones they have already learnt. Some of the students might have an extensive vocabulary, but know little about how to use it appropriately and thus use only a limited amount. Creative writing can help students learn to use collocations, phrasal verbs and idioms more naturally and in the right context. Asked to write a text on their own, students will get used to working with dictionaries (collocation dictionaries, idiom dictionaries, English-English), which will also improve their spelling. Furthermore, it is a good idea to give activities that practice spelling and meaning in context, such as a task to write a poem using the words bad/bat, head/hat.
Creative writing activities are useful for practicing irregular plural forms of nouns, vocabulary on a certain topic, synonyms and antonyms. There are learners who remember things better if they not just read an example from the book, but actually make an example themselves. Struggling with putting a particular word in a sentence might result in remembering that word better.
There are a plenty of creative writing tasks that are aimed at practicing vocabulary or can be transformed to the ones that do so. For example, students can be asked to write a story or a poem starting from certain letters or using only certain parts of speech or a set of lexical items. Teacher might use creative writing techniques to present new vocabulary on the topic as well.
Besides practicing using lexical items in sentences, students can also practice pronunciation while reading their poems and stories out loud. More advanced learners may improve their connected speech, stress and rhythm.
Grammar structures can also be practiced with the help of creative writing activities. Scrivener says that learning grammar is a complicated process where learning the rules does not necessarily mean that the student is able to use them himself and actually understand them [Scrivener, 2011]. Scrivener states that there should be “some way that students can transfer this studied knowledge into a living ability to use the language” [Scrivener, 2011]. Creative writing activities can serve this purpose very well, they are useful for practicing the new grammar structures and the ones students have already known. All the types of creative writing texts (poems, stories, jokes, articles, etc.) can be transformed to focus on certain grammar topics — tenses, comparatives and superlatives, conditionals, reported speech and so on.
In this case, giving creative writing tasks as homework does not limit students’ time to complete the task, which means they will have an opportunity to proofread their work and correct possible mistakes. Developing a writing habit is an essential step in making progress in language learning.
Looking at the possible exercises, students might be given a photo or a set of pictures, with the teacher asking them to use only particular grammar structures. They can be given various words (past participles, nouns, adjectives, auxiliary verbs) to draw from a hat and subsequently write a story, poem or a joke containing all these words. There are countless modifications that can be used to practice students’ writing this way.
Russian is a synthetic language, which means that the word order in a sentence does not change its meaning, but the situation with English language is different and it is hard for students to get used to it. Creative writing allows learners to practice making affirmative, negative and interrogative sentences in a guilt-free atmosphere without the fear of failure.
In creative writing students are getting used to reading the work of their classmates. This prompts them to analyze their work in comparison with others and they start seeing the differences in style and meaning. They are also learning to find mistakes in other work and most importantly it allows them to practice understanding of a written text. Doing so helps students realize that sometimes other people do not get the meaning you are trying to convey and it is important to make sure that the reader is on the same page with the author.
To practice this skill students might be given their classmate’s work to rewrite it with their own words or turn it into a poem carrying the same meaning. The dialogue between students is really important at this stage, they have to be open with each other and understand that this will improve not only their classmate’s work, but their own as well.
Creative writing greatly influences students’ self-expression, self-esteem and self-discovery. Expressing oneself, presenting one’s ideas is not always easy and most of the school subjects are not aimed at students expressing themselves freely and in a creative way. Language teaching allows students to have this opportunity and teacher might encourage them doing so through creative writing, which gives students a chance to share their emotions, worries and thoughts. It is a challenge for students, but at the same time it raises students’ intrinsic motivation and boosts their self-esteem. Maley claims in his article that “the dramatic increase in self-confidence and self-esteem which creative writing tends to develop among learners leads to a corresponding increase in motivation” [Maley, 2012].
Even during their mother tongue classes students usually practice expository writing such as essays and are very rarely (if at all) asked to write stories or poems. This makes them think they are not good enough, not skilled enough. Incorporating creative writing activities into English lessons might lead to self-discovery of students who have never tried writing, never believed in themselves, to find out that they can actually be decent writers.
There is a significant difference between the teacher’s role during reading or listening tasks and during creative writing activities. In the former case the teacher is opposed to students as they are the ones who know and try to navigate students towards that knowledge. The latter puts the teacher in the same line with students as it is essential that they participate in the writing activity themselves. Maley states “there is little point in exhorting learners to engage in [creative writing] unless we do so too. The power of the teacher as model, and as co-writer is inestimable” [Maley, 2009]. Thus, in case of creative writing the teacher explores the language and stretches their imagination with the students.
Another benefit for English language teachers that creative writing has is the opportunity to understand students’ personalities better. Creative writing activities are always personal, which helps to see and understand students’ relationships with their classmates and family members, their dreams and thoughts on this or that topic. This prompts a teacher to personalize other tasks and engage students in reading, listening or speaking activities.
It might seem to teachers that creative writing activities require a lot of preparation time, however, there is a plenty of ready material by Jane Spiro, Alan Maley, Regie Routman and others, which can be adjusted to different level and age groups. Teachers may also choose to prepare their own tasks, based on students’ needs.
There are two basic form of writing that may be chosen for a creative writing activity — poetry and prose. Both of them have different genres and characteristics, which can help students improve their language skills.
Writing poetry is not common in Russian language classrooms, so both Russian students and teachers hardly imagine it being a part of the learning process. However, many researchers state its benefits for language learning, Scrivener claims that poetry “stimulates [and] wakes us up to see things in new ways, think of things in new ways” [Scrivener, 2011]. In her book with writing creative poetry exercises, Jane Spiro states that “when language learners are invited to speak more fully, they can be funny, wise, child-like, playful, witty, sentimental, philosophical, experimental. They can be many things there is no room to be in the functional classroom. The progress made by humanistic and communicative teaching and by the different pedagogic approaches to language can combine to take us further as learners and teachers” [Spiro, 2004].
Poetry has several genres — short and long poems, song lyrics, drama, rhymes, limerick, haiku and others. Apart from song lyrics, we can actually see some of them in our everyday life, like in commercials or TV show. Spiro says that “poetic language is more and more part of modern English. It is the way we make people, places and products, feelings and experiences memorable” [Spiro, 2004].
Despite the fact that there is a lot of controversy in having Creative Writing in teaching programmes, many researchers state that it is an effective tool for teaching languages. Incorporating Creative Writing in language lessons not only improves writing skills, but also develops students’ lexis, grammar, sentence structure and understanding. Giving clear instructions while introducing the task as well as presenting several examples is very important especially at the early stages of practicing Creative Writing. The topics for the Creative Writing activities should be relevant for students, this way there will be provided better outcome, it is also possible to use activities for English-speaking students if the necessary adjustments are made. The frequency of using creative writing activities in language classrooms is crucial, the sessions shouldn’t be more than one week apart, otherwise the progress will be lost.
There are various types of activities that can be used for practicing creative writing such as writing poems, short stories, blogs, creating mind maps and association lists. I will present some of the examples of such activities that I use in my experiment.
A task to write a poem looks appealing to students as it is a short piece of writing and it does not require long and thorough preparations. In the beginning it is not even necessary to talk about different types of poems and ask student to write a text of a particular type. At first it is important to get an actual result and have the sense of achievement, which will stimulate and motivate students to take on more challenging tasks. So, it is a good idea to start with something very simple, containing only several words that are easy to rhyme. Despite that fact, results will not be the same as students have their own way of thinking and combining words.
When I gave my 5th grade students the task to write a poem for the first time, we used the vocabulary from our student’s book – dream/team, become/plum. Most of the students decided to rhyme these words and put them at the end of the sentence, however, a couple of students used them in the middle of the sentence and chose to rhyme different words. One student did not have rhymes at all and said that they wrote a blank verse, which was fine as they still got a chance to experiment with the language and use their imagination.
To keep students interested and motivated teachers should complicate tasks by explaining different types of poems such as Japanese haiku (a poetic form that consists of three lines, with five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the third,) sonnet (they are traditionally made up with 14 lines and follow an ABBA ABBA CDE CDE rhyme scheme), acrostic (they spell out a name, word, phrase or message with the first letter of each line of the poem) and any other type that students might be interested in,
Poems may contain target vocabulary of the lesson or be based on a grammar topic that needs to be revised. We have tried it with past forms of the verbs, future simple tense and comparative forms of adjectives. This way students focus not only on grammar but also on their own perception of the world and emotions. Such tasks involve creativity and really involve students in the language learning allowing them to play with the language.
2. Mind maps and Stories
I usually combine these two activities as the former is an excellent pre-task to the latter, it gives students an opportunity to have several options in mind while doing the main task. For mind maps I use various e-tools like https://coggle.it/ or https://www.mindmup.com/, which allows me to incorporate modern technologies into my lessons and make the tasks more visual and involving.
Setting the context is an important part of preparation for writing stories, it may contain lots of different activities, starting from learning target vocabulary to reading and listening. As a matter of fact, a creative writing task can be the continuation of any task on the main skills (Listening, Reading or speaking). While conducting my experiment I mostly gave such tasks after reading. I will present the preparation for two of my favourite creative writing tasks of this type below.
The main task was for students to write a short story about one of Harry Potter’s mornings as if he was still living with his family, who are also wizards. As a warm-up I showed students some pictures of J. K. Rowling and D. Radcliff and we had a short discussion about whether they knew who these people were and shared our thoughts on this story about magic. Then I gave students a list of 5 facts about this book and they had a discussion in pairs to guess which ones are true and which ones are false. After that we read the first couple of paragraphs of the first chapter and discussed new vocabulary. Finally, we made a mind map together writing down some key words that might be useful for their stories like what spells might this family use at home, what food do they eat and what magical objects might be in their house. I also said that it is absolutely fine for them to invent new spells and any objects they like, which really motivated them. The writing assignment was given them as homework, in the end I got wonderful stories full of imaginative twists.
Another task of this type that I find entertaining for students is rewriting a story on behalf of different characters. My students did this task based on the story of Little Red Riding Hood. First, we read the story together, they can also read it individually at home or watch a cartoon. Then we discussed the characters and their personal qualities (for example, Little Red – kind, brave; Big Bad Wolf – sly, dangerous; Woodcutter – brave, hard-working and so on). Then students could pick a character (any character, even a squirrel in the tree) and think about what this character might have heard or seen. At home students rewrite the story from the point of view of this character, they might change some parts of the story or add new details. Such tasks are not only imaginative, but also teach students empathy.
Stories are especially good for practicing English tenses. It is also important to focus students’ attention on them prior giving the task. Such activities boost students’ imagination and give them an opportunity to create their own worlds while learning the language, however, they require a lot of preparation from the teacher and are usually time-consuming as you need to spend a whole lesson to set the context and make students interested in the topic.
Based on the theoretical part of the research I conducted an experiment with the total of 59 participants from “Romanov school”: 16 students from the 5 “A” grade, who are a part of the control group among 5th grade students, 13 students from the 5 “V” grade, who are a part of the experimental group among 5th grade students; 16 students from 7 “A” grade, who are a part of the experimental group among 7th graders, 14 students from the 7 “B” grade, who are a part of the control group among 7th grade students. They have been my students for a year before the experiment.
The age of the participants varies from 12 to 14 years old; they are of different language levels. The 5th graders of both control and experimental groups are mostly pre-intermediate (A2) with several exceptions that are closer to intermediate (B1). The 7th grade students from the experimental group are mostly intermediate + (B1+) with a few weaker students that are pre-intermediate (A2), students from the control group are of lower intermediate to intermediate level. Almost all the participants began learning English in the 2nd grade, 5th graders have 5 lessons a week, 7th graders have 4 lessons a week.
In the beginning of February, I gave my students a proficiency test that consisted of 16 grammar questions and 6 questions that check communicative skill with some added questions on their attitude towards learning English to check not only their English level, but their motivation and preferred topics as well.
From February to March, I did a variety of creative writing activities with my students. The activities correlated with the content of our student books Starlight 5 and Starlight 7 in order for students to see the coherence of the learning process. After completing the task, we discussed it and I wrote down students’ feedback.
The results of the survey based on 5 questions (Do you like learning English? Do you watch films/YouTube videos in English? Do you read books in English? Will you speak English when you go abroad? Do you want to study/live/work abroad?) showed that students’ motivation and interest in English language learning increased by almost 50%. The results of the proficiency test also improved by roughly 15%, especially in the communicative skills section. Below you can see some of the graphs illustrating the results of the experiment. Most importantly the feedback I got from students was mostly positive and students found these types of tasks really involving and entertaining, students from both the 5th and 7th grades said they would prefer to keep doing such activities in the future.
The results of the test and the survey before conducting the experiment.
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