How can we boost learner motivation through creative writing activities?
Here are 6 tips on selecting authentic, stimulating tasks to unleash learner creativity
- Task authenticity
As Harmer (2001:259) points out, the term creative writing suggests ‘imaginative tasks’, such as writing poems and stories, whose ‘end result’ is to promote effective learning and maximize learner motivation. For Beck (2012:35) creative writing does not only help students ‘develop their language skills’, but it also promotes our learners’ introduction to the TL’s cultural contexts and writing culture.
When it comes to unleashing learner creativity the options are endless: storytelling, article writing, rewriting a story, students alternating the end of their favorite book, pretending to be a famous writer/actor/singer/politician, writing imaginary replies to fan letters, writing stories based on pictures/songs, etc.
Below you can find a selection of EFL writing tasks that can easily be adapted to each classroom’s specific level and needs.
2. Boosting learner motivation
For Penny Ur (1996), activities that combine ‘purposeful and original writing’ will foster the learning process and will significantly boost learner motivation. We must give our students a reason to want to express their thoughts and ideas in the L2 and turn writing into a fascinating process for them. We need to find ways to increase our learners’ willingness to get actively involved in the lesson and use the TL in a more relaxed and playful way. Our learners need to feel motivated enough and discover new lexis and L2 structures on their own in order to appropriately convey meaning in the target language.
Through this process of students finding new ways to express themselves in the L2, learner autonomy is being promoted. Our students do not only ‘discover’ new vocabulary and grammar but they also develop an intuition of how certain types of texts are being constructed. Ur (1996:169) stresses the positive impact to language acquisition of this ‘journey of self-discovery’ through imaginative writing. When students find the task and the topic interesting, challenging and relevant to their age, they will ‘strive’ harder than usual to ‘produce a greater variety of correct and appropriate language’ in order to express their ideas.
3. Lowering learner inhibitions – The importance of praise and encouragement
For a creative writing activity to serve its purpose we must lower our learners’ inhibitions and the fear of making mistakes. We must stress out that what is important here is our students’ thoughts and ideas on a specific topic and the use of their imagination. We need to clarify to our learners that in these specific tasks, the focus is on unleashing their creativity. As Penny Ur (1996) points out, some attention to ‘formal aspects’ such as correct spelling, punctuation, acceptable use of grammar/lexis is required. However, when it comes to promoting learner creativity in the language classroom, teachers should primarily focus on the topic, on how the students are expressing their ideas and on how successfully they convey their message to their readers.
It is important to emphasize to our learners that making mistakes is part of the learning process. They should not feel discouraged by their tutor’s corrections. Positive feedback plays a very important role here. By praising their efforts (instead of only making corrections) we keep their motivation levels up and encourage them to become even better writers in the TL.
The teacher’s role during these tasks is of vital importance. As they are faced with the challenging task of writing down their thoughts in a language other than their mother tongue, our learners need to receive a lot of encouragement. Praise and focusing on the positive aspects of their written work will motivate them to want to write more in the L2. Our students’ self-confidence and self-esteem will increase and the fear of making errors will slowly go away.
4. The importance of pre-teaching – Activating learner schemata
In order for the writing tasks to be successful, we need to make sure that our learners will know what to say on the subject and how to express themselves in the foreign language. For certain topics we might have to supply our students with key language and provide all the necessary information they need in order to familiarize them with the topic and activate their relevant schemata. Using a variety of realia and stimuli during the lead-in stage is important as well as pre-teaching certain lexical chunks or L2 structures that will facilitate the writing process. We must provide our students with all the necessary input they will need in order to focus on their creativity and on expressing their thoughts in the L2. We must also make sure our learners have received adequate training and exposure to the rules that underlie the different types of register and genres.
The importance of extensive reading (turning input into output)
We should also keep in mind that creative writing should go in hand with extensive reading. For input to become intake and then output, our learners need a lot of exposure to the TL. Instilling the ‘reading bug’ to our learners is one of the greatest achievements of a language teacher. We need to make them want to read in the TL not because they have to but because they want to. This starts in the language classroom by choosing interesting texts, relevant to their age, level and needs. Texts that focus on topics that might trigger our learners’ interest will automatically boost their intrinsic motivation will turn reading in the TL into an enjoyable process. It is when our learners will have received the necessary input that they will begin to feel confident enough to turn it into output and freely express themselves creatively in the TL.
5. Respecting our students’ different learning styles and needs
For our creative writing activities to be effective, we need to focus on our students’ different learning styles, on their personalities, their feelings, their likes and dislikes. A whole class discussion or students filling out questionnaires on what they like and what they don’t in terms of topics and task types could enlighten us on the writing tasks we can select for our specific language classrooms. We need to focus on topics our students will feel eager to write about.
6. Creative writing as a cooperative activity
Creative writing tasks can also promote classroom cooperation. By working in pairs or groups in order to write a role play or a story for example, our students will combine their imagination and their knowledge of L2 lexis and grammar and will learn from one another. As Beck (2012:37) points out, through creative writing learners consider the ‘meaning’ and ‘implications’ of their writing and learn to be responsive to the writing of others ‘in an informed and playful way’.
Beck, H. (2012). Teaching Creative Writing. Palgrave Macmillan.
Harmer, J. (2001). The practice of English language teaching. Longman.
Scrivener, J. (1994). Learning Teaching. Oxford: Heinemann
Ur, P. (2012). A course in English language teaching. Cambridge University Press