Writing: Lesson Three
Arguments for Creative Writing in the L2 Classroom
Creative writing allows students to experiment and play with the language, and thus, to take ownership of the language. In addition, creative writing is usually engaging and motivating for students. It also helps learners view language as an authentic communicative tool, with a focus on meaning, not merely as a linguistic system.
Different types of creative writing activities.
Creativity in writing can be as simple as learning calligraphy. Watch the following video with Professor Esther Raizen (Hebrew) and note when, why and how she introduces calligraphy in teaching Hebrew.
Professor Raizen on introducing calligraphy in teaching Hebrew.
In an acrostic poem, the first letter of each word together spell out a word or phrase. To begin, students or instructors select a key term and use its letters to find words related to that term. The example below, from a first-year German online language program called Deutsch im Blick, is about holidays (der Feiertag). This type of poetry can be used effectively at all levels of instruction to explore topics, or cultural, literary, and media concepts (e.g., “Film Noir”).
For a fun variant of an acrostic poem, ask students to write their name vertically on a sheet of paper and write adjectives, nouns, verbs, or entire phrases next to each letter that describes them. Here, you can see a video of an example where two graduate students tried out the activity.
Writing name poems and a discussion about the form.
This poem consists of five lines (hence the name “cinquain”) that explore learners’ notions of a concept (person, event, genre). It can be used at any language level and in any course. For example, in a Spanish literature class, have students interpret Don Quixote and how they view the main character or his struggles.
Line 1: State a subject in one word (noun)
Line 1: Describe subject in two words (adjectives)
Line 1: Describe action about the subject in three words (infinitives/a phrase)
Line 1: Express an emotion about the subject in four words
Line 1: Restate subject in a single word
Cinquain poem about the “Night” by a first year German student
kann fetzig bekommen
ich liebe es durchaus
Nachtzeit Night time
can be cool (here: fun, exciting)
I love it thoroughly
On longer creative tasks.
Alternate ending activities can be used with any text (from stories, music, or film). For known texts, students can simply come up with a different ending. Or they can predict an ending of a story from the class reading.
The class displays all the possible endings and votes on the best story (as in, the “Oscar goes to…”). This vote can be repeated after the class reads the actual story to the end — and the “real” ending does not always win.
Similarly, students write a sequel to the story that takes place five years later. Or have students re-write the story (or parts of the story) from the perspective of one of the minor characters.
Alternate endings can be included as early as first-semester courses, but the assignment might best work as a group activity to ensure that students are not overwhelmed linguistically. Group writing can enhance creativity, lower anxiety, and foster student-to-student learning.
Short stories can range from a single paragraph to as long as 15 pages at the advanced language level. Think “creativity” and not “accuracy” when designing short story activities.
Short stories can include a modern fairy tale or a parable, a moment-in-life description, or even a mystery. While most of these constructs can be assigned individually, mystery stories seem to be best written collaboratively due to the complexity of the story structure. The class decides on the crime and even the victim for their story. Then students, using asynchronous computer-mediated-
communication or a wiki site, write a mystery over the course of a week. Ideally, the class reads a mystery story beforehand, to learn relevant vocabulary, grammar, and narrative structure before they write. Students can edit each others’ statements, insert comments/events into already existing paragraphs, or simply add to the story sequentially.
Writing and performing written works provide multisensory language experiences and can help students learn about the rhythm of language, play with cultural concepts and with the language or explore sociolinguistic patterns (e.g., if different characters use different dialects, registers, sociolects, etc.)
Screenplays can be designed for skits, a “newscast”, a game show, or for a key scene in a movie or written story. Such transpositions of media types (e.g., from written to oral production and vice versa) can reinforce relevant vocabulary and language forms, narrative structures and cultural constructs through a reflective writing process.
It is important that students see a sample/excerpt of a screenplay beforehand, so they learn the appropriate genre-specific requirements.
Dramas might be better suited for more advanced language levels and perhaps as long-term (e.g., semester-long) collaborative projects. Dramas are meant to be acted out, so ample time should be secured in the syllabus for practice, developing props and costumes, and the performances.
Wiki entries, blogs, a brochure advertising study abroad programs: these activities might be better suited for intermediate or more advanced learners. Students can participate in chat rooms that are populated by native speakers by contributing to the debate or summarizing the different points of view presented. Similarly, students can set up e-mail or Skype or text connections with native speaker “e-pals” to make language learning an authentic tool for intercultural communication. In live interactions (e.g., a chat room), care should be taken that the language is appropriate for the learners and that the native participants welcome the learners.
This module intended to make several points regarding teaching L2 writing. First, it underscored the idea that writing deserves systematic and continued attention in the foreign language classroom in its own right, not merely as a support skill for listening, reading or speaking. Second, this module presented L2 writing as a complex process that demands of authors to have clear ideas they wish to communicate, to take note of their audience, to be aware of the purpose of the texts they produce, and to use the linguistic aspects of language necessary for conveying meaning effectively. Third, L2 writing tasks should reflect a variety of purposes for writing in real life.
This module also aimed to impress upon instructors that activity sets rather than individual tasks provide the necessary scaffolding for a process-approach to L2 writing. Generating ideas, pre-writing, re-writing, collaborative writing not only improves the quality of the written product learners create, but also provides a coherent framework for instruction that reinforces the legitimacy of writing and literacy as worthy pedagogical pursuits in their own right.
Feedback guides further improvement of the written product; its main purpose is not merely to assign a grade. Even regarding assessment, writing should be viewed as a process, with multiple steps that guide learners from generating an idea to articulating it clearly, effectively, tailored to the purpose of the task.
Instructor’s Final Comments
Writing is essential for developing literacy and can help language learners connect the L2 to meaningful expression of ideas. By incorporating creative writing into a language curriculum, you can significantly contribute to learners’ sense of autonomy over the language.
[Module Instructor Zsuzsanna Abrams . ] 2010. [Writing]. In Foreign Language Teaching Methods. Carl Blyth, Editor. Texas Language Technology Center, University of Texas at Austin. http://coerll.utexas.edu
The material is provided free of charge for those that wish to study it.
How ever a no obligation exam is available at the end of this module.