Creative writing in class – for pupils and teachers

Alan Maley

What does creative writing support?

Creative writing supports language development in all areas: in grammar, vocabulary, phonetics and also in communication. Language has to be changed in the attempt to communicate unique, personal impressions. This allows the pupils to immerse themselves in the language at a much deeper level than would be conceivable if they were just putting forward an argument. There is a considerable gain in grammatical precision, appropriateness and originality in the choice of vocabulary, greater sensitivity to rhythm, rhyme, stress and speech melody.

Furthermore, creative writing promotes “playfulness”. Supporters of play rightly point out that the acquisition of the mother tongue is strongly associated with play. It is about creatively using language without the pressure to perform.

Playfulness encourages pupils to take risks with language and investigate it without fear. In that way they not only discover language but also themselves. They begin to develop something like a “second language personality”.

The growth of self-confidence and the feeling of self-worth in pupils which accompanies creative writing produces a corresponding rise in motivation. Suddenly the pupils realise that they can express things in the foreign language which no one before them has written in that way. They are not just proud of their own production but also experience the pleasure of the creative process.

Creative writing also leads to creative reading. As they enter into the process of creating a text, they appear to grasp intuitively how such texts function, which in turn makes them readable. The development of aesthetic reading skills communicates to the pupils a better understanding of text structure, which in turn helps their writing. There is only one thing that is better than reading for developing writing abilities – a lot of writing!

Practical tips

Create a relaxed, neutral atmosphere in which your pupils feel sufficiently safe.

Make sure that the work of your pupils is “published” in some form. Projects can appear in a simple ring binder or a class newspaper. There will most certainly be pupils who can design a class website which can be used to present the work. Pupils can, of course, also read their work aloud or perform it to other classes or, indeed, the whole school.

Encourage your pupils to discuss their work in an open and friendly way. They will get many further good ideas if they begin by sharing an idea with others. Help your pupils to create an atmosphere in which criticism is possible without hurting anyone.

Make it clear to your pupils that what they do in the lesson is only the tip of the iceberg. In order to reap sustained benefit from these activities, they have to do a lot of additional work outside lessons. Most of what we learn we do not learn in class.

Work regularly, perhaps once a week, with creative writing tasks. If there is too large a gap between the individual sessions you have to start from the beginning again each time.

Hello/goodbye poems

Tell your pupils that you are going to write a poem. The poem will merely consist of two lines of which each one will contain only two words. The first line starts with “Hello” and the second with “Goodbye”. Give the pupils one or two examples: Hello sunshine, Goodbye rain. Or: Hello smo­king, Goodbye health.

Ask the pupils to think of some lines of their own. Write them down on the blackboard.

Now the pupils work together. They should create at least two new poems. Give them ten minutes for this task. Ask for examples and write them on the blackboard. The pupils should give each other feedback on their poems.

This exercise requires the pupils to dip into their vocabulary and think about words which in terms of their meaning have a reciprocal relationship (e.g.: smoking/health). This task can also serve as a warm-up exercise for other tasks.

If you were ...

Begin by making copies of the following draft:

If I were a fruit, I would be ...
If I were a vegetable, I would be ...
If I were a tree, I would be ...
If I were a flower, I would be ...
If I were a fish, I would be ...
If I were a bird, I would be ...
If I were a book, I would be ...
If I were a song, I would be ...
If I were the weather, I would be ...
If I were a season, I would be ...

Distribute the copies. Ask the pupils, working on their own, to complete the draft poem in their own words. Allow ten minutes for this. An example: If I were a fruit, I would be a grape.

The pupils then talk about and compare their results in groups of four. This should be followed by a discussion of the whole class in which the poems are discussed line by line.

Metaphor poems

Duplicate the following word list for later use in the lesson.

Love     an egg
Hate     a tooth brush
Disappointment    a vacuum cleaner
Marriage     a spoon
Friendship     a knife
Hope     a mirror
Life     a window
Work     a cup
Time     a banana

Check whether your pupils are familiar with the concept of a metaphor. Then give examples of metaphor from daily life: • A blade of grass • A sharp frost • Spending time • Save time • Opening up a can of worms • She’s a snake in the grass • He clammed up • He shelled out • A wall of silence

Our everyday language is in fact so full of metaphorical expressions that we hardly notice them anymore. Metaphors are common forms of expression in our language. At the same time they also provide the opportunity to discover new realms and gain insights.

Distribute the copies. Ask the pupils to find three metaphors by combining one of the words on the left side with one on the right (“is” has to be used as a connective). The pupils should not spend too much time thinking about the combinations. For example:

•   Life is a window. • Friendship is a knife. • Love is a vacuum cleaner. • Marriage is a banana • Hate is a mirror.

Then ask the pupils to choose one of their metaphors and add two explanatory lines. For example:

Marriage is a banana:
when you’ve eaten the fruit,
only the skin is left.

Hate is a mirror:
it reflects back
on the one who hates.

Say that no unnecessary “because” needs to be inserted and that the lines should be kept as short as possible.

Invite the pupils to read out their metaphor poems in the lesson. At the end they should prepare an illustrated depiction of their work.

This idea is an exercise adapted from Jane Spiro's outstanding book Creative Poetry Writing.

About the author: Alan Maley has been concerned with the methodology of foreign language teaching for teachers of English for more than 50 years. His work has taken him to ten different countries, incl. China, India, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia, countries in which he also lived. He was series editor of the Oxford Resource Books for Teachers and has published more than 30 books and numerous articles.