Imagining a Better World; Using Creative Writing in English Class
It is a common refrain for teachers to hear that their students dislike writing and writing exercises. Whether in their native language or a second language, it seems practicing writing does not capture the interest or imagination of students very well. Certainly in the STEP! II program here at TYO, the resistance many students had to writing at the beginning of the program was clear. Students, when asked to write anything they wanted about a given picture, often chose to write nothing. Whether out of fear or lack of vocabulary, this clearly needed to be addressed in our lessons.
Some studies have shown that using creative writing exercises to engage students can go a long way in promoting positive attitudes towards the art of writing. As one tool in a great toolbox of creative language teaching techniques, TYO’s English classes encourage the use of creative writing in our classrooms and in the lives of our students. Allowing students to lead and direct the conversation towards their own interests involves students more personally in the learning process. It also builds their confidence and ability to engage in other topics they may be unfamiliar with. Much of our students’ previous English instruction experience followed a “teach to the test” pattern, which means students often look for explicit answers to explicit questions, and struggle to reflect on what they have read.
To inspire the students out of this mindset and get them asking “Why?”, the EFL classes use many different creative activities to practice writing skills. Over the course of one week, the beginner class wrote their own stories and eventually presented them to the class. They could tell any story they liked, as long as it was at least two minutes long. This gave our students a chance to tell stories they are interested in, whether they be a re-telling of a famous Arabic myth or a story of personal importance to them. Students were responsible for editing their stories, practicing storytelling techniques, and working on confidence when speaking in front of a crowd! It was a tall order, as almost everyone struggles with public speaking even in their native language, and so everyone was very proud of their work and the progress they made by the end of the week.
To my surprise, some students resisted many of these more creative exercises at first; they were conditioned to expect questions like, “Where do you go to university?” in their previous English classes and could clearly see the value of answering such a question. Over time, however, participants came to enjoy thinking about deeper, more conceptual questions that challenge the students to articulate their hopes, their dreams, and their futures. In frustrating environments, confidence in the importance of your own stories and the merits your struggles and triumphs have can have far-reaching effects on self-confidence and self-worth. As such, it is vital, in Palestine and in classrooms around the world, to show young people that it is not just what they know, but their thoughts and feelings as well, that matter and deserve to be heard.
The English as a Foreign Language (EFL) program is part of STEP! II, a youth employability, empowerment, and community leadership initiative supported by Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation.
Ally, EFL Fellow, Spring 2016