there’s a book in all of us

I love writing! I love the challenge of catching my fleeting thoughts into a lexical net. Once I have helped the random emotions, hunches, fears, sentiments materialize by giving them shapes on paper / screen several things ensue. Firstly, I calm down. I calm down because the mayhem of thoughts in my head has been mitigated. It’s as if the school bell has just rung channeling the bustling and chaotic crowd into disciplined rows of paired pupils. Secondly, getting the often vague and shapeless sentiments into words, gives them clarity. I myself arrive at a better understanding of my own feelings. But writing, expressing myself through words, has also a much more serious and professional value for me. Especially in this space here. Making the effort of getting the often  complicated and nuanced ideas across to my readers in English gives my language learning an incredible boost and motivation. Of course, I cannot but make mistakes sometimes. And I hope you will not feel offended as readers by that. And anyway if we, the teachers, don’t make mistakes, how can we encourage our students to make them?!

One of my wonderful mentors once said that we teach who we are. For me writing is an essential part of my being. I get itchy fingers after too long a pause. I get restless and grumpy if I cannot touch the keyboard or my good old pencil. So it must come as no surprise that my students are in for a serious amount of writing once they join my classes. This year, for instance, all of my hundred or so students have to keep a diary. Don’t ask me where I take the time to read and comment on them all.

To get my students into even more writing, I have used the help of some great people and wonderful sources very recently. Firstly, let me mention a great blog brimmed with ideas for interesting and challenging lessons. One of Rachael’s last posts was a rich list of writing activities all worth trying out.

I had also one extremely inspiring workshop only last weekend when I attended the annual conference of a wonderful association called ETAS. The workshop was given by Elsbeth Mäder, and in this workshop she invited us to do a lot of creative writing, which we so diligently did, a great group as we were 😉 I loved Elsbeth’s ideas so much that I used them a couple of days later with my own students. The lesson was a success and that’s why I decided to share it with you (with the kind approval of Elsbeth). I have made some adaptions to the initial workshop activity to better meet the needs of this particular class of mine.

This writing activity can boost vocabulary and writing skills at any level from A1 upwards. This activity is on one hand, useful because it generates so much language. And on the other hand very amusing and motivating as students create something of their own which is then noticed and valued by the others.

So here’s the lesson plan. First I ask the students to clean the desks and only leave a sheet of paper, a pen and a dictionary. This kind of introduction is usually extremely effective as students feel something special is about to happen. Then I asked the students to write ONE word on the sheet. Just one, any word, in fact!

Then they give their sheet to their right hand neighbour. Students read the words on the sheet and add one more word to this sheet. So for instance you might get word pairs like sun – mountains, apple – worm, happy – miserable etc.

Then they give their sheets once again to their neighbours (again the ones on the right so that the words written by the students don’t come back to them) Now the students have to write a sentence where the two words on the sheet are used. At this point I introduce what I call creative flow … I tell my students to write and if they cannot recall a word in English they can put it down in French. What is important from that moment onward is to get their “fleeting” ideas onto the paper. After the first writing I give them a minute or two to look up the missing words in their dictionaries. Once the sentence is ready students read them out. (I had a class of 10 older teenagers and it was the first time with this group that everyone really listened to the other students!)

Now I ask the students to imagine that this sentence comes from a book. I ask them to imagine who the main character of this book could be. And then I ask them to write a description of this character in some three to four sentences. Then, once again, students read out their descriptions. We got a motley crew of quite real and very fairy tale like characters from miserable and obese guys to a penguin princess! After the character description I asked the students to imagine a place connected to this character and write a description of it. Once again, the classroom was filled with the soothing sound of pens running across the sheets. I guess if I hadn’t stopped them they would still be writing 😉 After writing and follow-up language correction students read their descriptions again.

The last part was a dialogue. I asked them to imagine another character and then write the dialogue between their main character and someone else. By this stage, students seemed to inhabit their own imaginary worlds and dialogues came rushing from their pens.

Once everyone had read their dialogues, time was up. As a follow-up students were asked to write clean versions of their chapters for next week’s lesson. I encouraged them to look up any words that they were not happy with and be their own critical editors.

From my students assiduous writing and attentive listening to their fellow classmates I could only draw one conclusion – the activity was a success.

From single words ten imaginary worlds were created.

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