Expecting for Some Practical Aspects of ELT?

Editorial: October Issue

Cool Greetings to All!

It is just over a week since autumnal equinox harbingered the relieving touch of gradually growing coolness to the body baked listless in the heat-wave of scorching summer. Days are getting shorter, and longer nights are getting colder. On the contrary, the political and cultural fervour in our South Asian, land-locked country is getting the visionary minds to get hotter. The approaching Constituent Assembly (CA) election and the one-month festive holidays are no doubt spicing up interesting interactions on predictions and preparations to optimize the opportunities of constitutional and cultural rights. Meanwhile, it may not be an odd-man-out to steer the theoretical practice of English language teaching (ELT) to some practical aspects. We do have a thrilling topic of the CA election besides those of festivals and religious tolerance, moreover geared up by a great time of month-long holidays. It is, of course, worth composing some poems and stories, being accustomed to technologies to take teaching learning up to the mark of technical soundness, strengthening vocabulary to get through tests like IELTS, TOEFL, GRE, etc. And, we may expect all this to come true by pacing ahead with the practical flavors the posts serve here.

The first entry is an activity-based ‘literary recipe’ on creative writing by Prof. Alan Maley from the UK, who has been involved in ELT for over 40 years and has published thirty books and numerous articles. To our gratefulness, he was the key speaker at Asian English Teachers’ Creative Writing Conference (AETCWC), convened in Birgunj. His easy-to-apply, persuasive ideas in the entry gently guide us by the hand to how we can enjoy making our writing creative effortlessly.

The second one is a motivational writing by Dr. Myrtis Mixon from the USA, who has served as a language specialist in English as a Foreign Language (EFL) in more than 30 countries, authored 11 English language textbooks (most of them about using stories in teaching language), and enjoyed working with 180 Access Microsholarship students at a winter camp in Pokhara in early 2013. Her writing lucidly depicts how stories act as a fascinating tool to energize students to have a good start of their own reading and writing.

The third one by Gretel Patch, a Technology Integration Specialist from the USA, who has a great passion for supporting education with technology in creative and innovative ways, highlights how technology helps explore and exploit great resources of language with a few ‘clicks’.

The fourth one by William Wolf, an American English teacher, who is currently working in several capacities in Chittagong, Bangladesh and also serving as an ACCESS teacher there, sheds light on how to crack the hard nut of learning vocabulary patiently sharing his own successful experiences.

The last-but-not-the-least one by Indra Bahadur Ter, an executive member of NELTA Kanchanpur and teacher of English at a college in Far Western Development Region, Nepal, reflects the ongoing limited trends in ELT in a major part of the country with clear mental conflicts fluctuating between the harsh reality of teaching English as an end and broader perception of practicing it as a means to an end, and lets it be up to readers how to have a breakthrough.

The links to the entries:

  1. Creative Writing for Students and Teachers: Some Practical Ideas by Alan Maley
  2. Motivation Through Writing by Myrtis (Doucey) Mixon
  3. Technology Resources in English Language Learning by Gretel Patch
  4. Effective Practice for Vocabulary by William Wolf
  5. English Language Teaching and Larger Pursuits of Life by Indra Bahadur Ter

I am sincerely sure you all valued readers would love to relish the great reading ‘feast’ in a single sitting! And, it is possible during inter-festive days off. What you all need to do is crave your caring support to your NELTA CHOUTARI, as well as your self-driven inclination to the defiant faith in professionalism in pluralism!

Now let me express my unfeigned words of gratitude to all the contributors for their invaluable cooperation to accomplish the issue, as well as Bal Ram Adhikari, one of the caring co-editors for his kind support.

Wish you healthy reading and great ideas to share!

Suresh Kumar Shrestha


NELTA Choutari

Creative Writing for Students and Teachers: Some Practical Ideas

 Alan Maley



Writing creatively is a joyful component of learning a language in real life. Creativity, as creative writers have tasted, adds flavor to writing. Many more language teachers might have a rigid mindset because of having had to be bound to the framework provided by syllabi, textbooks, exams, etc. Anyway, they can be hopeful for the change they really wish by introducing at least some elements of creativity in their teaching.


There are a number of general points which will help make implementing creative writing activities more likely to succeed:

Try to establish a relaxed, non-judgmental atmosphere, where your students feel confident enough to let go and not to worry that their every move is being scrutinized for errors.

Ensure that the students’ work is ‘published’ in some way. This could be by simply keeping a large notice-board for displaying the students’ work. Other ways would include giving students a project for publishing work in a simple ring binder, or as part of a class magazine. Almost certainly, there will be students able and willing to set up a class website where work can be published. Performances, where students read or perform their work for other classes or even the whole school, are another way of making public what they have done.

Encourage students to discuss their work together in a frank but friendly manner. We get good ideas by bouncing them off other people. Help them establish an atmosphere where criticism is possible without causing offence.

Explain regularly how important accurate observation is, and encourage ‘noticing’ things. They also need to be encouraged to be curious and to follow up with ‘research’ – looking for more information, whether in books, on the Internet or by asking people.

Make it clear that what they do in the classroom is only the tip of the iceberg. To get real benefit from these activities, they need to do a lot of work outside class hours. Most of what we learn, we do not learn in class. You can capitalize on that fact.

Do the activities regularly in order to get the best effects. Maybe once a week is a sensible frequency. If you leave too long between sessions, you have to keep going back to square one. That is a waste of time and energy.

The following are simply a sample of some possible activities:

Hello/Goodbye poems

  1. Tell the class that they are going to write a poem. It will have only two lines, and each line will have just two words. The first line will start with ‘Hello’, the second with ‘Goodbye’.
  2. Give students one or two examples:


Hello sunshine,

Goodbye rain.


Hello smoking,

Goodbye health.


Hello paper,

Goodbye trees.


Then, ask if they can think of any new ones. Note them on the board.

  1. Ask students to work in pairs (or alone if they prefer), and try to come up with at least two new poems. Allow 10 minutes for this task.


  1. Ask for their examples and put them on the board. Ask students to give feedback on each other’s examples.


  1. Collect all the poems. Display them on the class notice-board or upload them onto the class/school website.

The activity is very simple yet it does require students to call on their vocabulary store and to think about words that have a mutual or reciprocal relationship of meanings (smoking/health etc.) If you prefer, this can be used as a short warm-up for other activities.

Stem poems

  1. Explain to students that they will be writing some lines that will fit together into a poem. Then, write up the stem you intend to use. For example: I wish I could…

Elaborate further by eliciting samples of completed sentences, as in these examples:

I wish I could have an ice cream.

 I wish I could speak French.

 I wish I could visit Australia.


Then, ask each student to write three sentences following the same pattern.

  1. After about 10 minutes, ask students to work in groups of four and to share their sentences. They should choose six sentences that they think are most interesting and then decide what order to put them in to form a 6-line poem. There is no need for the poems to rhyme but if they do, fine. Lastly, tell them to add one final line, which is: But I can’t.
  2. Ask groups to read their poems aloud to the class. Can they suggest any ways to improve the poems?
  3. Collect all the poems. Display them on the class noticeboard or upload them onto the class/school website.
  4. You can decide on other stems to use in subsequent classes. For example:


Loneliness is…

 I used to… but now…

 I love the way…

 Nobody knows…

 Who knows…?

 I don’t know why…


It would be a good idea to choose stems that give practice in language points you are working on with the class at that time.


An acrostic poem is based on a word written vertically. The letters then each form the first letter of a word, and all the words are related to the meaning of the original word. For example:





  1. Explain what an acrostic is and write up one or two examples on the board. Then, ask them to write an acrostic based on their own name or the name of someone they know well. The words they choose should somehow describe the person. For example, Vuthy:


 V Very

 U Unlikely

 T To

 H Help

 Y You

  1. Collect all the poems. Display them on the class notice-board or upload them onto the class/school website.
  2. Ask students to write at least one more acrostic before the next class. This time, they can choose any word they like (it doesn’t have to be someone’s name). For example:



Everywhere –




Acrostics involve a kind of mental gymnastics that engages students in reactivating their vocabulary in an unusual way. Acrostics do not usually produce great poetry but they certainly exercise the linguistic imagination.

Acknowledgement: Some of the ideas were developed by Tan Bee Tin.

If you were …

  1. First you make copies of this outline:

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…


Then distribute the sheets that you have prepared. Ask students to work individually for about 10 minutes, completing the outline of the poem with words they prefer. For example: If I were a fruit, I would be a grape.

  1. Let students share what they have written in groups of four. Then conduct a class discussion and go through the poems line-by-line, asking for examples of what they have written.


  1. Ask students to think of someone they like and to write the person’s name as the title of their poem. They then write a 12-line poem addressed to that person using the following format:

Line 1: describe the person as a kind of food.

Line 2: describe the person as weather

Line 3: describe the person as a tree

Line 4: describe the person as a time of day

Line 5: describe the person as some kind of transport

Line 6: describe the person as an article of clothing

Line 7: describe the person as part of a house

Line 8: describe the person as a flower

Line 9: describe the person as a kind of music/a sound

Line 10: describe the person as something to do with colour

Line 11: describe the person as an animal

The last line should be the same for everyone: ‘You are my friend’.

So, their poem would look something like this:


For Sharifa

You are mango ice-cream

You are a cool breeze on a hot day

You are a shady coconut palm

You are dawn

You are a sailing boat crossing the bay

You are my comfortable sandals

You are the sunny verandah

 You are jasmine

 You are a soft gamelan

 You are light blue

 You are a playful kitten

 You are my friend.


Metaphor poems

  1. Make copies of this list of words and phrases for use during the class:

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

  1. Check that students know what a metaphor is – a form of direct comparison between two things. Give examples of metaphors in everyday 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

In fact, everyday language is so full of metaphorical expressions that we hardly notice them. They have become an accepted way of speaking. Explain that poets make great use of metaphor to make their words more vivid and easier to visualise.

  1. Hand out the sheets. Tell students to write three metaphors by combining one item on the left with another on the right (students will have to join the words using ‘is’). They should not spend 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.


  1. Now, ask them to choose just one of their new metaphors. They should now write two more lines after the metaphor to explain what it means. 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.


Tell students not to use ‘because’ as it is unnecessary, and to keep the lines short.

  1. Ask students to share their metaphor poems with the class. Students should then make an illustrated display of their work. Acknowledgement: This idea is adapted from Jane Spiro’s brilliant book, Creative Poetry Writing (OUP)

Now we can have a good start to enjoy learning some ‘real’ language.  Creative writing promotes self-motivation and makes language teaching and learning effortless. You are always curious to find out something and encounter new things and learn them willingly. How interesting this can be! Good luck and happy writing!

Motivation Through Writing

Myrtis (Doucey) Mixon, Ed. D.

University of San Francisco


How can we motivate our students to be excited about their classes? One way is to tell them stories. Another way is to ask them to write stories.


Stories educate, enrich, and entertain everyone.  Find easy stories in English.  But for now, I will whet your appetite by sending you two of the stories that will be published in the forthcoming book of stories called “Untold Tales” written  by English ACCESS Microscholarship Students in Nepal, These are the stories that they wrote at the winter camp in 2013 in Pokhara.


These anecdotes and tales of exprience provide an enjoyable opportunity to increase vocabulary, reading comprehension, listening and speaking and, ultimately, writing. The stories and exercises together are a whole-language anthology designed to improve communication skills. These stories include exercises that employ the cooperative/collaborative learning philosophy and address multiple learning styles.


Using stories is a magical way to teach, effective at any age.  Here’s a summary of how stories aid language-learning:

  • provide motivation for reading
  • heighten listening skills
  • develop speaking skills
  • use cooperative learning strategies
  • foster creative language growth
  • provide content-based material
  • Serve as model for further writing

All learners, from babies to grandmothers, learn better with stories; they are energizers. Integrating stories as an adjunct to the teacher’s repertoire in the classroom setting is not only simple, but makes perfect sense.  We hope you use these stories to open new worlds of content and learning possibilities.  We also hope they serve as a springboard to motivating your own students to write stories.


Enjoy the stories. If you want some more, write to me at “myrtis101@mac.com” and I will send you more. These two are from Kathmandu and Gorkha, but I have many  others, some from Butwal and Birgunj.


My Story


One early morning, on my way to temple, I saw sparkling eyes in ragged clothes.  I saw their creative hands and bright smiles.  These children are strangers to me but no different from our own children whom we always love and support.


Two days later, I visited the prison of Sundhara, Kathmandu, for my class in social work.  I saw many such faces who reside in prisons alongside their incarcerated parents and I became sad.  These children have done nothing wrong.  They are simply caught up in something they don’t understand.


I couldn’t forget them so a few months later, along with some friends, we opened up a child daycare centre in a rented house.  My parents were not happy and they told me to leave it.  However, I was determined to take those children out of prison and look after them and educate them for the future.


When I started this, I was 21, and nobody believed in me.  People thought I was crazy.  They laughed at me.


After two years, in 2005, I established The Butterfly Home for the children.  Then, I travelled to many other places, speaking with jailers, parents and authorities, preparing to bring children out of prison.  My own parents now understood and helped me.  We were so touched by the children’s plight, that they are forced to live with their impoverished, incarcerated parents because there is no one to look after them on the outside.


It has been eight years since I began gathering the children from Nepali prisons and bringing them to live in a centre in the capital, Kathmandu, providing them not only with food and shelter, but also education and motherly love.  I am happy to be recognized as their mamu.  Now I have become the second Nepali woman to win the 2012 CNN Hero Award at the star-studded award ceremony held in Los Angeles.  But still 80 children are living in prison and I am going to take them out of the prison soon.


My name is Puspa Basnet and children are my hope.  I believe the world is their place where they can carve their future with their own hands.

Prashanna Mahat, 15




Understanding the Story

How did Puspa Basnet get involved with helping the children?



sparkling    reside    incarcerated         determined   plight    impoverished  carved

1. The stars were ______________________________________________ in the sky.

2. The children’s parents  are __________________________________ in the prisons.

3. The children have nowhere to ____________________________ out of the prisons.

4. Puspa Basnet was _______________________ to get the children out of the prisons.

5. Many people were affected by the ______________________ of these poor children.

6. To make something out of something can be to ____________________________ it.

7. The parents in the prison have no money; they are __________________________ .


Now you Talk

1. What would it be like to be one of those children living in the prison?

2. Where do they go to school?

3. Is there a way you could help these children?


Now you Create

1. Write a letter to the mayor of your town asking for help.

2. Draw a cartoon strip about this problem.


Role Play

1. Mother in prison, her son: talking about his going to school.

2. That son, another student: talking about where he lives.

3. Two Girls who live with parents in prison: talking about their lives.

4. Two guards in prison: planning to help the children

5. Puspa Basnet, mayor of town: talking about helping more children.




The Kidnappers


This is a true story that happened in Dada Gaun village near Laxmi bazaar in 2012.


One Saturday, Rina and Rehan, a brother and sister asked their  parents if they could go to the park.  Their parents said, “Please, go safely.  There are so many bad people in the road.”


Rina said, “Don’t worry.  We will be careful.”  They crossed one town where many busses went here and there.  They went to the park.  While they were walking on the road, a micro bus stopped just beside them.  The door opened and a man jumped out, grabbed them both and put them in the micro bus.


They were taken to the jungle which is near the park.  They were so afraid and they cried a lot.  Many hours went by.  The kidnapper went near Rina and laughed. Rina asked, “Why are you laughing?”


The kidnapper said, “You are my one corore rupees.  That is the ransom we will get from your parents.  Give me your phone number.  But Rina didn’t give it to him.  He slapped her and said, “If you don’t give me your father’s phone number, I will kill you right now.”


Rina was afraid of him and gave the number.  Meanwhile, the children’s parents were worried when they didn’t come home by evening time.  Then their mobile phone rang.  The kidnapper demanded one corore rupees as a ransom.  The kidnapper said to him, “If you don’t give me the ransom money, you will see your children’s dead bodies.”

Hearing this, the father became more afraid.  Then the father thought of a trick.  “Where are you?”  asked Rina’s father.  The kidnapper said, “I am in the jungle near the park.”


While the father kept talking to the kidnapper, the mother called the police station and said,  “Please save my children.  They have been kidnapped.  They are in the jungle near the park.  The kidnapper demands one corore rupees as ransom.  I don’t have even thousands.”


The police hurried and drove very quickly.  They stopped the car in the park and walked into the jungle.  They surrounded the microbus and caught the kidnapper.  The children were saved.


Their parents gave many thanks to the police.  They told the police not to let the kidnapper free because if he is free he would kidnap other children.  After that he was put into the jail for his whole life.


Kasam Ale,  15




Understanding the Story

What is a moral for this story?



Fill in the blanks of the summary with the words below.

ransom     surrounded      kidnappers     tricked

microbus     worried      careful      grabbed


The children wanted to go to the park.  Their parents were __________________ They said, “Be very _________________ .  While the children were walking, a _________________ stopped and a man jumped out and _______________________ them.  The men were __________________________.  They demanded  a _____________________ .  The father ________________  the bad men.  The police ____________ the kidnappers.


Now You Talk

1. What would you do if a kidnapper grabbed you?

2. How can you solve a crime with a mobile phone?


Now You Create

1. Draw a picture of the kidnappers.

2. Write another ending to this story.


Role Play:

1. Mother, girl: warning about bad people.

2. Girl, kidnapper: he asks for her phone number.

3. Sister, brother: planning how to get away from kidnappers

4. Father, police: planning to catch kidnappers.

5. Mother, girl: talking about their capture.

Technology Resources in English Language Learning

Gretel Patch




I’ve been kindly asked to contribute a few words for this month’s blog edition. I have had the privilege of meeting many of you, though not all, so let me briefly introduce myself. Online I am known as the EdTech Didi and I blog at www.edtechdidi.com. I have my Masters of Educational Technology and am a Technology Integration Specialist. I have a passion for using technology in creative and innovative ways, especially to support education and learning. I work hard to help parents, students, and teachers use the best resources for their learning adventures.

We recently lived in Kathmandu for two years and I was able to assist in what I call “technology outreach” with several of the English Access Microscholarship centers throughout Nepal. I tried to expose teachers and students to technology basics that could support them in their English studies, and I tried to instill a broad overview of what 21st Century learning is all about. In my limited time with the students, and also within limited classroom connectivity, only so much was possible. Still, I tried to lay a foundation to help them realize that technology is much more than texting, Facebook, and YouTube, and that there are many tools to help  them reach their educational goals.

Language Learning from Native Speakers

We currently reside in Washington, D.C., while my husband studies Kurdish, a language spoken in northern Iraq. In his profession he routinely receives language training before moving to a new country. Before we moved to Kathmandu, he studied Nepali for one year. The facility where he receives his training has 100,000 enrollees annually and offers courses in roughly 70 foreign languages

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. As you can imagine, this is no small undertaking. If you roamed the halls, you might overhear phrases in Urdu, Thai, Swahili, Croatian, Hungarian, Chinese, Arabic, French, or Armenian. While there are many language learning models and strategies, one requirement for this particular program is that only native speakers are allowed to be instructors.

With larger world languages, there are many qualified candidates to choose from. With small and regional languages, however, sometimes it is difficult to find qualified instructors. With specialized languages or dialects, sometimes there are limited resources to use as course materials and instructors must rely on current newspapers, for example, instead of established textbooks. Sometimes the teacher hasn’t lived in his/her native country for many years and the vocabulary and issues have changed. Nonetheless, this model places significant importance on learning a language from a native speaker.

In Nepal, it is not feasible to utilize a similar methodology, so what can be done to help ensure that students learn English with the proper dialect and vocabulary?

Technology Resources

Fortunately, there are many online resources and software that can help students be exposed to native English speakers. It is of critical importance that students are encouraged to use them and take advantage of such opportunity.


I created this Prezi with you in mind. It includes the problem, integration strategy, relative advantage, and the expected outcome for using each type of tool with the students. Various tools and resources are provided as links, such as:

Using the Internet for instruction, e.g. tutorials, eBooks, and videos

Tool software, e.g. word processing and presentations

Instructional software, e.g. vocabulary games and drill-and-practice activities

Productivity software, e.g. concept and word mapping to strengthen writing skills

Some other excellent resources are:

Voice of America: Includes lessons, videos, idioms, audio, and practice activities using current events.

Yale Center for Language Study: Links to various websites students can use to practice grammar, punctuation, spelling, slang, listening, speaking, writing, and reading.

Cultural Resources

There are a variety of other resources that can expose students to cultural awareness, values, and traditions as they explore the world “virtually” in a way they may not ever get to do otherwise. I am a Google Certified Teacher, which basically means I received some great training at Google’s offices and am an ambassador-of-sorts for the power of Google’s products in education. A few of my favorite resources are:

Google World Wonders Project: Virtually explore many of the great wonders of the world.

Google Art Project: Explore and experience many of the world’s great art museums

Here are two other virtual tours that help students “travel” to Washington, D.C., for example:

Interactive White House tour: Go inside the White House through photos and videos

National Museum of Natural History: Students may not be able to visit this Smithsonian, but you can download this interactive tour and learn as though they were there.


It is not possible to try everything, especially with limited computers, Internet access, and connectivity. However, with a little effort and determination, English language teachers can choose a few resources and technology tools that will greatly enhance student experiences and expose them to native English speakers. When used purposefully, technology can be very engaging and exciting for students. Teaching, especially teaching well, is not an easy task, but it is a crucial one if we are going to make a difference and ultimately change the world – one student at a time.

I wish you the best in all of your efforts with the wonderful students entrusted to your care. They truly are the future.

For more resources created with Access students and teachers in mind, please visit: http://www.edtechdidi.com/outreach.html

Effective Practice for Vocabulary

William Wolf

Chittagong, Bangladesh

Students often ask me, “How can I learn English better and faster?” and I have trouble giving them an answer. I have taught English for more than 20 years and I have been a student of languages for more than 30, but I am still not sure how to answer their question. The problem, I think, is that they are looking for the one way to learn a language. But learning a language effectively requires that we use a number of different methods. In this blog, I want to address what I think is the single hardest part about learning a language to a high level—vocabulary—and to suggest a number of ways that learners can improve their knowledge and skills in this area.

Learning vocabulary is a real problem

In my experience as both a teacher and a student, the most time-consuming part of learning a language is usually vocabulary. People often worry about the problems of learning a new alphabet, script or other writing system, but although this is a problem in the beginning, it is really something in which we can make a lot of progress in just hours. There are some exceptions, Chinese being the most famous. But if someone wants to learn Arabic, Greek, Russian, Burmese, or some other script, ten or twenty hours of careful practice spread out over a few weeks will usually be enough. People also often worry about grammar, and it’s true that this will take longer. Here, it’s a matter of many months of practice.

But when it comes to learning vocabulary, it’s a matter of years, not of weeks or months. Many language learners discover that when they’ve reached a high intermediate level, they’re able to discuss, with some difficulty, many topics, but that even books written for ten-year-old native speakers are often too hard for them to understand. Why? When I ask students to take a page from a text and then to use two different colors to mark the grammar and the vocabulary problems they have with this text, they quickly see that they usually have only a small number of grammar problems per page, but they might have 20 or 50 or even more words whose meanings they cannot understand.

Reading even a book for a fifth grader requires a knowledge of thousands of head words. Ordinary conversation probably uses no more than one or two thousand head words. This means that simply relying on conversation will not give us a vocabulary large enough to read even texts that teenage native speakers can understand. If our goal is to be able to read university level materials, our work will be even harder.

Of course, if the language we are studying has a vocabulary that is closely related to a language we already know, then learning vocabulary won’t be so difficult. Spanish and French share a large percentage of their vocabulary. Both are descended from Latin and both have borrowed many technical words from Latin, so a person who knows one will find it quite easy to learn the vocabulary of the other. Similarly, most North Indian languages are closely related. Hindi, Bengali, Nepali, Gujarati, and many other languages are both descended from Sanskrit and have borrowed many of their specialized words from Sanskrit. A knowledge of one of these languages helps immensely in learning any of the others.

But when we are learning a language whose vocabulary has few connections with other languages that we know, we will have to spend hundreds, if not thousands, of hours reading, using dictionaries, memorizing, and practicing if we want to be able to function at a university level.

Learning vocabulary is a real problem. So what to do about it?

1 – Choose the right things to read

The simplest piece of advice for learning any skill is “practice…a lot.” But it’s not enough to simply practice, we must use effective practice, and this is where things start to become more difficult. In addition to the problem mentioned above—the very large number of vocabulary that must be learned—there’s another problem, namely, that to effectively learn vocabulary we need to concentrate on words that are appropriate for our level. The best way to do this is to find texts that are at the right level. If the texts are too easy, we won’t find enough new words to learn, but if the texts are too difficult, there will be too many new words and these words will often be too hard for us to use (that is, to practice) in our own speaking and writing.

The most important thing we can to do make learning vocabulary more effective is to choose texts that have about the right number of new words. Dr. Willy A Renandya is a senior lecturer at Singapore’s National Institute of Education, and he has done a great deal of research on extensive reading. He argues that the best texts to use are ones that are rather easy for the learner. What does “rather easy” mean? In percentage terms, this means that for extensive reading we should be using texts where only about 2% of the words are unknown to us. A paperback novel might have about 250 words per pages, so he suggests the Rule of Five. If the text is the size of a paperback novel, count the number of unknown words on page, and these should be fewer than five. If they are more than five, the learner will probably only be able to read a small number of pages before giving up in frustration.

There are several ways we can find such “rather easy” texts. One way is to use texts written for younger native speakers or language learners. Children’s books and school textbooks are two obvious choices. Poetry and songs will usually be harder than prose, and comic books are often not a good choice since they use so much slang.

Another source is graded readers. Graded readers are books that are written to match different levels (here called “grades”) in terms of both vocabulary and grammar. There are many publishers of graded readers: Oxford, Cambridge, National Geographic, as well as South Asian publishers. Most of them use some form of a 6-level scale to describe the difficulty of a text. They also publish a wide range of titles and genres; there’s fiction (both original and adapted), travel, science, geography, history, and many other topics. I urge my learners to start with a book at level 3 and read a few pages and apply Dr. Renandya’s Rule of Five. If the book is too hard, then they should choose a level 2 book and try it. If the book is too easy, then they should try a level 4 book.

But choosing the right level is only part of the solution. It’s also important that we chose the right kind of book. If we have a very specific purpose in learning a language, we should concentrate on texts connected with that purpose. For example, if our only interest in learning a language is to read biology texts, then we should focus on vocabulary connected with that field. Of course, we need to find levels at the right level of difficulty, so we could use graded readers about science and the environment or books for primary and secondary school students. However, if our goal is to function at the level of an educated person, we should not limit our reading. Instead, we should read texts from a variety of genres and about a variety of topics: science, fiction, travel, politics, religion, movies, food, sport, family, holidays, everything.

2 – Find the definitions

Finding the definitions sounds easy but actually can be the most boring part of learning vocabulary. There are a number of common mistakes people make but also several solutions.

The worst thing to do is to stop everyone time we find an unknown word and to then look it up in a dictionary. This completely breaks our attention. What should we do? I recommend using a highlighter (I happen to use an orange one for this purpose) to mark the unknown words as one reads. After I reach the end of the chapter, I’ll then go back and choose which of the highlighted words to actually look up in a dictionary. If I’ve chosen a book that’s not too difficult, there should be no more than five unknown words per page, which would mean perhaps 20 to 100 words per chapter.

I am a big believer in using flashcards. These are pieces of stiff paper on which we can write things that we want to memorize. I should emphasize three things. First, many language learners think that all they need to do is make flashcards and memorize the words in order to learn a language. That’s not true. We also need to practice how to use these words correctly, an issue I’ll address a bit later. A second problem is that many native speakers of English don’t like using flashcards and urge their students not to use them. In my experience, these native speakers tend to recommend that learners simply use context to guess the meanings or that they just absorb new vocabulary from books, TV, movies or other sources. In my experience, such people very often fail to learn any language to a university level. Although using context to guess meaning is very important, most learners are not able to learn thousands of words simply through methods like these. Third, many monolingual native English speakers insist that their students only use English-English dictionaries. I have little patience with this. Although once we reach an advanced or superior level, we might use such dictionaries, for lower levels the best choice is a bilingual dictionary.

Once I have finished a chapter or some other part of the text, I will choose which of the highlighted words to learn. Often I will try to learn all the words, especially if I’ve chosen a text with not too many unknown words. I use flashcards that are 3 centimeters by 6 centimeters and that are made of stiff paper like that used to make business cards. Some people prefer to use larger cards, but I find that this size, although small, is easy to hold in my hands. I write the unknown words on the cards and then I organize them alphabetically. Next, I use a dictionary to find definitions and I write these on the cards. I know that the next point will sound foolishly simple, but it’s important. When you write the definition on the card, make sure you write it on the back of the card (English on one side, and your own language on the other) and also be sure to turn the card upside down. Having the words on one side written upside down with respect to the other will make it much easier to flip the card for learning and reviewing.

3 – What kind of information to include on the flashcards?

For learners of English, it will often be necessary to write the pronunciation of the word on the flash card. If you are right handed, you will probably be holding the cards in your right hand, so I suggest writing the English word in the center of the card and then writing the pronunciation in the bottom right corner. This way, you can hide the pronunciation with your right thumb and use it to help to guess and study the pronunciation.

It also makes sense to write irregular forms (especially for verbs), and for this I recommend also using the lower right corner. And for the small number of irregular plural nouns (child – children, ox – oxen, woman – women, etc), you can do the same.

Another kind of information to include is derivatives. For example, for the card with the word reason on it, you might also want to write reasonable and rational on the English side and then to give the definition of each on the back.

It can also be useful to include together words that you often confuse. For example, beginners often have trouble with kitchen and chicken. Putting both on the same side of one card can help you practice them and can help you remember that they’re different.

4 – Collocations are important, too

Learners should certainly also include collocations. A collocation is a fancy word for a group of words that often come together. Some of these might be phrasal verbs: get over, get across, break up, break through, come off, drag into, see off. Others can be phrase: have a good time, be on top of the situation, find a solution to the problem. It’s not possible to learn all of these, but when we’re making flashcards, we should probably include some collocations.

5 – Moving beyond the dictionary: finding useful phrases

A dictionary won’t have every phrase that we want to say, but a could source to find this is our extensive reading. When we are reading, many times we’ll see a phrase or a sentence and think, “I didn’t know this before, but I can guess the meaning and I really need to learn how to say this!” When I read, I underline these useful phrases with a green ink pen (green = “go forward” in my mind, so I use green since I want to be able to go forward with these phrases). For example, when I was studying Bengali, I didn’t know how to ask “What does this word mean?” but one day I saw a sentence in a Bengali book and I was able to use context to understand that sentence. I immediately underlined it in green and also made a flashcard so I could practice it.

6 – Going from the discrete to the holistic

So far, most of the things I have emphasized have been discrete skills or discrete pieces of knowledge. “Discrete” means “in small pieces”. Although important, we also have to practice more holistic kinds of language. “Holistic” means “in wholes, not in pieces”.

One way to do this is to make short sentences from the words we see on our flashcards. We shouldn’t always just memorize these words as discrete (isolated) items but should also use them holistically (to make sentences, to have conversations). It’s especially easy to do this with collocations, but we should also try to use individual vocabulary items in sentences.

And what next?

Learners will find that after they get about a thousand or more flashcards, they will have trouble organizing them. It will no longer be possible to review all of these cards each day, nor will it be effective. Many words won’t require daily review to be remembered. In a future blog, I’ll consider the issue of how to organize one’s flashcards. I’ve been using flashcards regularly since the 1980s and for at least half a dozen languages I have more than 5,000 flashcards (for each of these languages). I agree that organizing them and also using them to maintain one’s knowledge of vocabulary is a real challenge, but I think I have some useful ideas. But that will have to wait.

English Language Teaching and Larger Pursuits of Life

Indra Bahadur Ter

Far Western Development Region, Nepal

For decades we have been teaching the English language primarily as an end in itself. The question whether English should be taught as an end in itself or as a means to achieving larger pursuits of life has been a matter of constant debate among ELT scholars, language experts and language theorists. Equally mighty question is whether larger pursuits can be achieved only after gaining a proficient command of the English language, or any other language for that matter, or, the desired proficiency comes only after we engage in larger pursuits of life.

By larger pursuits of life I mean all those creative sorts of activities that demand either field-specific professional excellence or that bring happiness to our lives with a sense of well-being or euphoria which I take art and literature for preciseness. The latter sort of pursuits become imminent from the very idea that the chief end of everybody life is the pursuit of happiness. Undeniably, this type of happiness derives from self-actualization, the highest level of need in Maslow’s hierarchy, and art and literature are the best ways towards self-actualization.  In this article I shall attempt to establish a relationship between language command and these larger pursuits of life with special reference to the English language.

Field-specific professional excellence

In the past English was taught solely as a language of communication and was by and large used as a means of communicating with the world community, and its secondary application was for literary activities. However, within the last two decades, the world has undergone a vast transformation with its explosion of knowledge and English has pervaded our life and culture. The world has been anglicized, so to speak, and new types of professional needs have emerged. Now, the scope of the English language has broadened. In this changed context an ESL/ EFL teacher has now not only to deal with English and its grammar, linguistics, ELT but also there are a number of disciplines like philosophy, literature, anthropology, psychology, mass communication, journalism, and above all those registers of English that are used in an indeterminately large number of fields and situations, that most often pass over the heads of a majority of English teachers.  As a side note, English teachers need  to acquaint themselves with all those varieties of English used in different English speaking communities and different professional contexts so they can help their students deal with world realities in relation to English use.

English for Specific Purposes: English for Specific Purposes (ESP) is the English for professional needs of learners and requires field-specific knowledge of English. Why ESP? This question should be clear from the following anecdotes from my own life.

I had just passed Master’s in English when my spouse complained of abdomen pain during her last months of pregnancy and we visited a doctor, who noticing my flaunting of English, replied in English. He used medical register: “She has a minor cervical fissure. Miscarriage might result if we don’t resort to caesarian.” I didn’t have the faintest idea of what he said but I just uttered a faint “Yes”. So deplorably I wished I could have a dictionary handy then.

At another time I was invited to write a bank guarantee for an organization for a loan that would be sanctioned to the organization on their written request along with the collateral. I spent the whole day trying and re-trying and ended up with what looked like an abstract literature. Ah, it was a horrible experience.

As a matter of fact, some of us might aspire to write a proposal for an organization that might bring up ludicrous incomes to us; some of us might aspire to write an influential article for a newspaper, a film script, a dissertation, a legal document, an advert, or a book, for that matter. But our own English comes as a barrier when we proceed. We lack the knowledge and skills of field-specific register of English. In a world where knowledge is a measure of power and where English sells as a commodity, why can’t we sell our knowledge of English? Why in certain vacancy announcements where sound knowledge of English is a must, preference is given to other disciplines rather than English? Rarely have English language graduates got the posts like manager, project coordinator, executive officer, proposal writer, and the likes solely on the basis of their English skills. Why can’t we sell our English skills in larger world markets? It may be perhaps because we don’t study/ teach field-specific professional English that can in technical terms be called ESP. Certainly ESP is a lot different from General English.

So what? Teaching the English language as merely an end in itself is not the demand of time. The demand of the hour is teaching need-based English. For this, whole the programmes and curricula of English right from beginners’ level have to be re-looked and revised.

English for art and literature: a euphoric pursuit

After so much reading of the English language, grammar, linguistics, research articles, critical theories, newspapers, journals and so on and so forth, we should be prepared to create something of worth for the real world audience – a poem, a piece of fiction, an essay, a travelogue, or a book worth reading. Well, yes, we do really well when our audience is our students but our ability starts to answer when our audience is the literati from the world community. Many of us might even fail to interpret and appreciate a piece of art or literature written in the current trend, for we are still reading/writing structured literature of the romantic age and modern age. Facing postmodern literature is a challenge for us. If we cannot read and enjoy art and literature, we have no right to call ourselves connoisseurs of art and literature. Reading, appreciating and creating art and literature to cultivate a sense of well-being or euphoria is what I mean by “euphoric pursuit”. Art and literature are something that make our life meaningful and worth living, and there is no gainsaying the fact that these entities are the stairs that lift us towards self-realization and self-actualization. These pursuits should be at high end of ELT/ ELD.

However, the way we teach literature in English classes is no way better than spoon feeding – mere discussing the gist or summary of the literary text, dictating the summary or a stereotypical summary to them and getting them to learn the end-of-the-text question answers, which WILL only blunt their creative potentialities rather than sharpen them. When shall we encourage our students to read, interact with and appreciate the literary texts, making out their own enquiries into the text to distill their own interpretations of the text, and generate their own critical thinking and creative writing?


Editorial: April  Issue

Warm mid-spring greetings to all!

Interestingly, today is April 1 – All Fools’ Day! Ah, now I understand why the highly respectable scholars contemplated a bit longer before making their contributions close to the deadline. Yes, I remember requesting them for their articles, writings or reflections so as to publish them in this issue on April 1. Thank God, they took the RISK – after all they are all creative writers ready to take risks at each and every turn and twist! You may be wondering why so with your thoughts wandering if they are daredevils or aliens. You may dare to argue and ask if they have a lot to lose that they always take risks. Ultimately, you may heave a deep sigh of impatience and come to an abrupt conclusion that it is too hard to understand creative writers and much more creative writing! In fact, they are both too simple to be complicated. Simply, we need to be simple to understand simplicity. Of course, it is universal to take a risk to learn anything new whether it is walking or something else. Creative writers are the explorers of novelty to add something unique to their ever-learning process. That is why they are pioneers, always in the lead to venture a new initiation, digging many more out of NOTHING. That is how they sense creativity all abundant, all scattered all around! Let me share something creative with you through a short conversation. Here it goes:

A: what is there in the room?

B: Nothing.

A: Who is there in the room?

B: Nobody.

A: What do you think about the room?

B: Simple. It is all empty!

A: How? How come the room has NOTHING and NOBODY, and it is all empty?

Anyway, please rest assured – for sure none of us is going to be fooled here. If we happen to, take a chance to be creative in resonance with what you are chancing upon in this Creative Writing on the Move.

Yes, the CHOUTARI issue welcomes you all with creative writings as the products of Asian English Teachers’ Creative Writing Conference (AETCWC), a historic literary event convened in Birgunj on 12 and 13 March, 2013 by NELTA Birgunj and Multilingual Literary Society Nepal. The issue you are going through comprises six entries of diverse styles and tastes. As you move from one to another you are bound to discover different vibrant ideas and experiments.

The first entry is a concise scholarly article on creative writing by Prof. Alan Maley, an eminent figure in ELT from the U.K. with copious contributions and primary interests in creative methodology (including writing), teacher development and innovative materials, who was the key speaker at the AETCWC. His article highlights creative writing as the essence of living language suggesting enjoyable classroom teaching through inventive activities.

The second entry is a piece of writing by Dr. Kirk Branch, English language specialist from the U.S.A., who was one of the four plenary speakers at the AETCWC. His writing emphasizes breaking the barriers of conventional rules and encourages teachers of the English language to awaken their latent talent of free writing to be writers.

As the third entry is an experience-based piece of writing by Dr. Jayakanran Mukundan from Malaysia, a Professor of English Language Teaching at Universiti Putra, Malaysia with his prime research interest in English Language Teaching Materials, and a plenary speaker at the AETCWC. His practical, easy-to-follow, instructive writing may serve as a cure-all to most of psychology-hindered teachers for a jump-start to unveil their vast potentiality as writers and better teachers.

The next one is a reflection on the conference by Dr. Vishnu S Rai, an Associate Professor of English at TU and a leading ELT educator of creative writing in Nepal, and another plenary speaker at the same conference. His reflection seems to be directly from the pages of his diary that may plunge you deep down to the insightful thoughts inspiring how simply we can enjoy expressing ourselves in poetry that is often frowned at in our Nepalese context, as if it is one the most tedious parts of writing.

The fifth one is another reflection by Konokon Opasmongkonchai, a freelance Thai and English language teacher from Thailand, who had a presentation at the conference. Her writing flavoured by a couple of pictures may get you to have a writing aspiration and let it take wing to its fulfillment.

The sixth entry is a blog by Li Wei from China, an English lecturer at Guizhou Normal University, China with her main research interests in creative approaches in language teaching and intercultural communication, who also presented a paper at the conference. In her blog, she has shared her experience of how to overcome ‘writer’s block’ and how our writing can journey from rough, shapeless one to well-shaped, refurbished one as a natural process.

And, a special entry is by another plenary speaker Professor Dr. Govinda Raj Bhattarai, a renowned, reverend academician with various contributions to Nepalese ELT and literature. His plenary on ‘You cannot Create until Your Heart Longs for Singing’ has a distinctive taste to serve creativity lovers.

Now what I would like to request you to do is feel words that are ALIVE, not dead, and are always visualizing the wonder of capturing the universe in lines and verses.

Here are the links to the entries to get connected to:

  1. Creative Writing for Students and Teachers by Alan Maley
  2. Writers Teach, Teachers Write by Kirk Branch
  3. What Writers Need to Know about Starting and Then Getting Better at Writing Jayakaran Mukundan
  4. Birgunj Truly Represents Nepal by Vishnu S Rai
  5. My Reflection on Birgunj Conference by Kanokon  Opasmongkonchai
  6. Blog on Creative Writing Workshop and Conference in Birgunj, Nepal by Li Wei

“Before getting down to the end, let me extend my heartfelt thanks to all the respectable creative writers, who inspire us to cherish something ordinary to add an extraordinary dimension to creative writing and to share with all, for managing to make their unforgettable contributions to the issue. The entries here are purely practical and immensely implemental for us to feel the pulse of language in a new direction, so they are worth reading, re-reading, feeling and flaring in one way or another, whether here in three steps mentioned below or there taking them to classrooms to count radiant smiles at language and literature!”

The last but not least, here is how we can make our visit to CHOUTARI memorable –

We have three things to do, but feel free to do one or all at your will.

They are:

First, like the post(s) of your choice – an aesthetic move!

Second, share it or them on facebook – a hopeful preparation!

Third, sketch a comment – a commendable commencement of your creativity!

Best of Reading and Writing!

Suresh Kumar Shrestha


NELTA Choutari

Creative Writing for Students and Teachers

Alan Maley


Why is it that most institutional systems of education develop such narrow and unadventurous teaching procedures?  How is it that joyful learning somehow gets overwhelmed by institutional rituals: the worship of the syllabus, the obsession with ‘covering’ the textbook, the manic preoccupation with the exam, the compulsion to conform?  It seems that only in rare cases, through the determination of individual teachers, is joyful learning achieved.  In most other cases, the language is reduced to drumming in material as if it were a set of mathematical formulae in preparation for the exam, after which it can safely be discarded.  Small wonder that many students simply switch off  and develop a lifelong aversion to the language in question.  What they learn is neither enjoyable nor perceived as useful in the ‘real’ world outside the classroom.

This applies to much English language teaching too: all too often, it lacks a creative spark.  John McRae goes so far as to say,

“In future years, the absence of imaginative content in language teaching will be considered to have marked a primitive stage of the discipline: the use of purely referential materials limits the learner’s imaginative involvement with the target language, and leads to a one-dimensional learning achievement.  Representational materials make an appeal to the learner’s imagination…”  (McRae 1991:vii)

In this article I shall be arguing for the need to develop more creative approaches to writing as a way of enriching the learning experiences of both teachers and learners.


What is Creative Writing?

Creative writing is often contrasted with Expository writing.  I have summarized the principle differences between them in the following table:

   Expository Writing   Creative Writing






     External control










     Thinking mode


    Appeal to the intellect


    Avoidance of ambiguity






    Internal discipline


    Stretching rules








    Feeling mode (plus thinking!)


    Appeal to the senses


    Creation of multiple meanings

When writing an expository text we are essentially instrumentally motivated. We have a quantum of facts, ideas and opinions to put across.  Expository writing rests on a framework of externally imposed rules and conventions.  These range from grammatical and lexical accuracy and appropriacy to specific genre constraints.  The aim of expository writing is to be logical, consistent and impersonal and to convey the content as unambiguously as possible to the reader.

Creative writing, by contrast, is aesthetically motivated.  It deals less in facts than in the imaginative representation of emotions, events, characters and experience.  Contrary to what many believe, creative writing is not about license.  It is a highly disciplined activity.  But the discipline is self-imposed: ‘the fascination of what’s difficult’ (Yeats).  In this it stands in contrast to expository writing, which imposes constraints from without.  It often proceeds by stretching the rules of the language to breaking point, testing how far it can go before the language breaks down under the strain of innovation.  Creative writing is a personal activity, involving feeling. This is not to say that thought is absent – far from it.  The ingenuity of a plot, or the intricate structure of a poem are not the products of an unthinking mind: they require a unique combination of thought and feeling – part of what Donald Davie (1994) calls ‘articulate energy.’  An important quality of creative writing however is the way it can evoke sensations.  And, unlike expository writing, it can be read on many different levels and is open to multiple interpretations.

The Case for Creative Writing.


It is reasonable to ask however, how we can justify the inclusion of creative writing, in addition to aesthetic reading, in our language teaching practices.  A recent small-scale survey (unpublished data) I conducted among some 50 leading ELT professionals, especially teachers of writing, yielded the following reasons:

1.  Creative writing aids language development at all levels: grammar, vocabulary, phonology and discourse. As learners manipulate the language in interesting and demanding ways, attempting to express uniquely personal meanings (as they do in creative writing), they necessarily engage with the language at a deeper level of processing than with expository texts (Craik and Lockhart 1972).  The gains in grammatical accuracy,  appropriacy and originality of lexical choice, and sensitivity to rhythm, rhyme, stress and intonation are significant.

2. Creative writing also fosters ‘playfulness’.  In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in the role of play in language acquisition. (Cook 2000, Crystal 1998)  In some ways the ‘communicative movement’ has done a disservice to language teaching by its insistence on the exclusively communicative role played by language.  The proponents of play point out, rightly, that in L1 acquisition, much of the language used by children is almost exclusively concerned with play: rhythmical chants and rhymes, word games, jokes and the like.  Furthermore, such playfulness survives into adulthood, so that many social encounters are characterized by language play (puns, jokes, ‘funny voices’, metathesis, and so on) rather than by the direct communication of messages. In creative writing, learners are encouraged to do precisely this: to play creatively with the language in a guilt-free environment.  As Crystal states, ‘Reading and writing do not have to be a prison house.  Release is possible.  And maybe language play can provide the key.’ (Crystal 1998:217)

3. This playful element encourages learners to take risks with the language, to explore it without fear of reproof.  By manipulating the language in this way, they also begin to discover things not only about the language but about themselves.  They effectively begin to develop a ‘second language personality’.

4.  Much of the teaching we do draws and focuses on the left side of the brain, where our logical faculties are said to reside.  Creative writing puts the emphasis on the right side of the brain, with a focus on feelings, physical sensations, intuition, and the like.  This is a healthy restoration of balance between the logical and the intuitive faculties.  It also allows scope for learners whose hemisphere preference or dominance may not be left-brain, and who, in the usual course of teaching, are therefore at a disadvantage.

5.  The dramatic increase in self-confidence and self-esteem which creative writing tends to develop among learners leads to a corresponding increase in motivation.  Dornyei (2001), among others, has pointed to evidence that suggests that among the key  conditions for promoting motivation are:

‘5. Create a pleasant and supportive atmosphere in the classroom

6.  Promote the development of group cohesiveness.

13. Increase the students’ expectancy of success in particular tasks and in learning in


17. Make learning more stimulating and enjoyable by breaking the monotony of

classroom events.

18. Make learning stimulating and enjoyable for the learner by increasing the

attractiveness of tasks.

19. Make learning stimulating and enjoyable for the learners by enlisting them as active

task participants.

20. Present and administer tasks in a motivating way.

23. Provide students with regular experiences of success.

24. Build your learners’ confidence by providing regular encouragement.

28. Increase student motivation by promoting cooperation among the learners.

29. Increase student motivation by actively promoting learner autonomy.

33. Increase learner satisfaction.

34. Offer rewards in a motivational manner.’(Dornyei 2001: 138-144)

All these conditions are met in a well-run creative writing class.  This increase in motivation is certainly supported by my own experience in teaching creative writing.  Learners suddenly realize that they can write something in the foreign language which no one else has ever written before.  And they experience not only a pride in their own products but a joy in the process.

6. Creative writing also feeds into more creative reading.  It is as if, by getting inside the process of creating the text, learners come to intuitively understand how such texts work, and this makes them easier to read.  Likewise, the development of aesthetic reading skills provides the learner with a better understanding of textual construction, and this feeds into their writing.  There is only one thing better than reading a lot for developing writing ~ and that is writing a lot too!

7. Finally, the respondents to the questionnaire survey were almost unanimous in agreeing that creative writing helps to improve expository writing too. In fact, by helping learners to develop an individual voice, it makes their factual writing more genuinely expressive.

All of the above factors were mentioned by the respondents to the questionnaire.  Respondents noted that students who become engaged in CW tasks demonstrate a robust sense of self-esteem and are consequently better motivated (Dornyei 2001).  They also become more aware both of the language and of themselves as learners. The virtuous cycle of success breeding more success is evident with such students.  As they become more self-confident, so they are prepared to invest more of themselves in these creative writing tasks.  Above all, students derive not just ‘fun’ but a deeper sense of enjoyment from their writing.


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Tan, Bee Tin (ed) (2004). Creative Writing in EFL/ESL Classrooms I  Serdang: UPM Press.

Tomlinson, Brian  (1998). ‘Seeing what they mean: helping L2 learners to visualise.’  In B.Tomlinson (ed). Materials Development in Language Teaching.  Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press.  265-78

Tomlinson, Brian (2001) ‘The inner voice: a critical factor in language learning’  Journal of the Imagination in L2 learning.  VI, 123-154.

Wright, Andrew and David Hill. (2008)  Writing Stories.  Innsbruck: Helbling Languages.

Writers Teach, Teachers Write

Kirk Branch


Over 15 days, I traveled throughout the southern part of Nepal (“I went down,” I tell my friends in the United States, who expect to hear stories of the Himalayas), working with teachers and students – writers – who were looking for ways to incorporate creative writing into their English language classrooms. At the invitation of the U.S. Embassy, and hosted throughout by NELTA representatives in Kathmandu, Birgunj, and Kawasoti, my short trip will stay with me well after my return.

Before every workshop I ran, before the talk I gave in Birgunj, I asked participants a simple question: “How many of you are writers?” Sometimes, nobody raised a hand; occasionally, some raised a tentative hand, nervous about claiming the title of writer but unwilling to say that they weren’t. That question introduced the simple idea at the heart of all the workshops and conversations I had in Nepal: If you are not a writer, you are not qualified to teach writing. How can you teach guitar, if you can’t play guitar? How can you teach volleyball, if you don’t play volleyball? Of course you cannot, or at least you cannot do it very well.

And so, in all the places I traveled, we wrote. We wrote stories, and memoirs, and poems, haikus and slam poetry and fables. I heard stories about family members who sacrificed for their children, poems full of frustration at the current politics of Nepal, diatribes against the bandh. The writings were by turns funny, beautiful, sweet, angry. And we shared the writing, reading aloud, sometimes laughing, sometimes tearing up, sometimes feeling the anger and frustration, always supportive and always curious about what each participant had to say and wanted to explore.

In the process, I hope that the participants began to understand how to think like a writer. Writers know a few things about writing that non-writers don’t usually understand. Perhaps most importantly, writers understand that the rules provided in textbooks and in official curricula are usually too simple and often are just wrong. Some writers use an outline when they write, but most don’t. Some writers create texts with only five paragraphs, but most don’t. Some writers have a topic sentence at the front of every paragraph, but most don’t. Teachers who write as well as teach writing are better able to help other writers find things to write about and support them as they create a text, not by giving them strict rules, but by offering knowledgeable support.

All writers know that writing is hard, that becoming a more proficient writer requires regular practice, that even people who write for a living struggle with openings and agonize through several drafts to reach a level of satisfaction with their work. All writers know that at some point, they have to share their work with an audience, that their main job is to connect with that audience, and that all the questions they have about style and structure matter not because they are “rules for writing” but because style and structure are the ways the ideas of a writer become accessible for that audience.  All writers know that the work of learning to write never stops, that a piece of writing can always improve, that writers need support and encouragement as much as they need criticism and commentary.

By the end of the workshops I ran, by the end of my trip, more people raised their hands when I asked “Who here is a writer?” I hope that even more would raise their hands now. Being a writer, identifying as a writer, requires only that a person write, commit on a regular basis to the work of sitting with a piece of paper or in front of a computer screen and filling it with words, with language. I hope that these newly identified writers in Nepal experience the joy of discovery, of writing something they didn’t know they thought, of surprising themselves with a beautiful image or important idea or funny description. And I hope they share their writing with other writers and inspire them as well with their ideas.

Mostly, I hope these new writers – these writers who teach writing – use their experiences as writers to help their students engage with the task of writing and reading. I hope all the writers who are also teachers of the English language in Nepal will harness the creative power of their students to inspire each other and embrace the joy of creation, to write texts they care deeply about and want to share with other students.

Like teachers all over the world, teachers in Nepal must follow official curricula, must prepare students for tests required by the government. Like teachers everywhere, teachers in Nepal sometimes become frustrated by these requirements because they do not allow enough freedom for teachers. I hope that by joining with other teachers, by learning the power of creative writing, of helping students learn language – any language – by helping them become excited about what they have to say, teachers in Nepal can start to have more voice in shaping a curriculum they are excited to teach!

I end this piece with a poem I wrote during a workshop at the NELTA headquarters in Kathmandu, with a group of teachers and students who walked as much as 12 kilometers over the course of a 2-day bandh, to participate. I dedicate this poem to them, and to all the other participants I met in Birgunj and Kawasoti, who inspired and excited me to do my best teaching, who took my challenge to become writers, who I hope I will see again. It’s dedicated to all the people at NELTA who made my trip so wonderful and engaging. I hope I have a chance to meet some of you again. I promise I will never forget you!

Whose language is this, English?

Can I call it mine,

this language of my childhood stories,

my mother’s soothing,

my father’s rebukes,

my brothers’ tauntings,

my teacher’s lessons,

my lover’s caresses?

Yes, it is my language!

Does that mean I own it?

Do you own the water you hold in your hands?

Do you own the air you breathe into your lungs?

Do you own the spirit that animates your soul?

What Writers Need to Know about Starting and Then Getting Better at Writing

Jayakaran Mukundan


Most people think they cannot write and when they start having these thoughts they will never begin writing. It is not easy to write a poem or a story if you haven’t done much of it but if you start and if it isn’t good at least you have tried. Once you start, get someone who writes frequently to look at your work. Get advice and then re-work your stories and poems. Once you finish start on new work so that you get “addicted” to it. Here below is some advice on how to get started and how to keep the momentum:

  1. If you have written a story or poem and after a while you don’t like it, don’t throw it away. Get some advice from people who write often and ask for help on improvements. Rework the poem or story and then show the expert to see if he/she likes it after the changes
  2. Sometimes no matter how much you try your writing stalls and this is referred to as “blocking”. You may then be, without your conscious knowledge, a “blocker”. People who are blockers are usually writers who are too afraid of making mistakes. If you are this sort of person, learn to relax and have a positive attitude towards your writing. Just keep writing and tell yourself you will change course or look at errors after you have written a page or two. If you worry about bad ideas or errors you may never get to start!
  3. Read more stories and poems and get ideas from professional writers. The more we read the more we are aware of how other people write their stories. We cannot copy these stories but we can learn some strategies so that our stories get better.
  4. If interested in writing poems but you have no idea as to how to start, get a reference which deals with scaffolding strategies that help learners become beginner poets. All you have to do is to learn some of the patterns (for form poems) and then you are on your way!
  5. In order to boost your confidence try publishing your work. The Regional Creative Writing Group does publish the work of amateur writers. Even if you don’t join the group, you can send in work (there may be a representative of the group in your country!)
  6. When you go to places like your ancestral village listen to what elders would say. Keep a record in your notebook. These may become ideas for new writing. When you are free try recalling some things at school like a teacher who is funny or a teacher who constantly forgets. Try writing poems about these people. In fact try writing about people in your family.
  7. Photographs are a good way to start writing. When at home sit with an older person; your father or mother and grandparents. Go through the family album with them and try getting as many stories about people and places from them.  Family albums are a great way to start writing stories and poems.
  8. Last but not least never say you can’t write. Most people who say this end up being good writers after some practice!

Some observations on Nepali teachers writers during the recently concluded Creative Writing Workshops

Generally different people have different personalities and individual preferences, hence write differently. Generally Nepali teachers are very enthusiastic. When at first they were taught scaffolding techniques they began to realize that they could write. This took place when they were taught some scaffolding templates for developing form poems. These exercises soon raised their eagerness to experiment, manipulate and essentially “play” with the language. When they started playing with language the creativity of these teachers soon began to show!

The writing trip was another instance where they learnt to write creatively “after making close observation”. It was good opportunity for them to realize that writing was not just confined to classrooms. The entire space that surrounds them can be inspiration for their writing. Many of the participants confirmed that they would also be working on creative writing projects with their own students after the workshops. That was indeed nice to hear!

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