Post-PhD Ramblings: What Is There to Remember?

Hem Raj Kafle

Hem Raj Kafle

I was a bit concerned when my friend Shyam advised me to write about my PhD experiences for this month’s Choutari. Would it be worth a read? But, then, I remembered reading Philip Guo’s PhD Grind with my exhausted, empty mind post-defense. This little book, an account of a computer scientist’s six-year engagement in Stanford University PhD, had nearly inspired a memoir of my own six years in Kathmandu University.

I remember reading a line from the acknowledgements page of a graduate thesis written for an American university. The author, with a visible sigh of relief, writes something like this: I thank my wife [Name] for not eloping with someone while I remained either engrossed in the writing or absent for library or field work. This is perhaps an ‘extreme’ feeling for a culture like ours, where you do not need to fear polygamy or elopement to result from such a pious mission as the PhD. But how you miss the family joy, and remain apprehensive of having become a nuisance to your own dear ones!

I began one of my post-PhD talks with this quote I happened to read on Facebook, “Long time ago, people who sacrificed their sleep, family, food, laughter and other joys of life were called saints. Now they are called PhD students.” Someone asked me right away how I had grown through that supposed phase of sainthood. I said I had come out of a very ungenerous conviction that my own family was the biggest hurdle to my growth and that I sometimes felt like dumping everything away and starting the life of an ascetic. This is another extreme feeling one could ever speak to an eager audience.

Yet, I do not aim to present a very personal experience, which might rather take the form of a grumble than a celebration of success. This is the real danger of post-defense rambling. I would rather love to foreground the aspect of learning and personal growth. People think PhD must have made me wiser. I have no desire to deny this. I take this opportunity to share what I consider worth sharing from my six-year engagement.

 PhD is an adventure marked with meeting many people – interested, disinterested, uninterested – and talking about your research. It is an anxious journey from the known to the unknown and back to the known. In such a process, I travelled to India five times. I presented papers at four international conferences. A couple of these travels were planned for meeting with Prof. Raman, my Supervisor from BITS-Pilani Goa. I travelled alone, with friends, with my better-half. Each travel involved some confusion, some excitement, some irritation, but gave enough impetus for further work.

I spoke to international audiences half a dozen times, a different work and perspective in each presentation while rhetorical theories, Nepalese history and newspaper editorials featured in each discussion. Inside Nepal, I would explore possibility of integrating rhetoric in English teaching and present in NELTA conferences, and grasp any aspect of editorial discourse and present in the conferences of Literary Association of Nepal. In the process, I collected dozens of books in Nepali. I would in fact pick up anything from Kathmandu streets if it spoke of media, movement, contemporary politics, and any stuff from the internet that had a key ‘editorial’, ‘rhetoric’ or ‘fantasy theme criticism.’

In the university, I taught English and communication skills integrating elements of classical rhetoric wherever possible. I made and taught syllabi for the courses in media studies and communication ensuring the inclusion of some useful aspects of rhetoric and discourse. I encouraged undergraduates to take up projects in rhetorical studies, and got about a dozen reports produced on representational themes.

I spent hours downloading YouTube video lectures on communication, rhetoric, discourse, and critical discourse analysis. I spent hours on Facebook gossiping with friends about my progress, crafting statuses and posting notes. I ran at least five blogs, writing, editing and publishing diverse contents. I wrote poems, essays, memoirs and newspaper articles. When I look back at the bulk of the dissertation, its accompanying raw materials, the blog entries and the collection of poems and essays in English and Nepali, I feel that the six years with PhD were my life’s most creative period.

PhD is a phase that comes to your life only when you choose to bring it because you must. Once it comes and you enter a process, it shakes your life to the core. What you have to learn and practice does not necessarily come from your earlier learning, nor from your regular work. Circumstances teach you how to put aside all the previous pomp and baggage. I name this a compulsion of “ruthless submission of adult arrogance to childish ignorance.”

PhD makes you develop a passion for listening and making others listen. My own main temptation was to talk if someone was there to put up with me. Dr. Adhikari, my supervisor from Nepal, would spend hours with me listening and talking things. Each time after I parted from him, I felt reinvigorated. A lot of new ideas would surge up and I would ramble a dozen pages forward no matter whether they made it to the dissertation or not. Then I would talk with my wife about my current epiphanies and progresses. I would explain to anyone my project if they showed a little curiosity to know how I was faring.

There is greater pressure in the share of a scholar in English. You have the burden of the virtue of not committing grammatical and stylistic errors. Most often, you are others’ guru and friend so far as teaching these vital aspects of dissertation is considered your own pious, universal responsibility. You are your own guru and enemy. You know how to tutor yourself, and at the same time keep on accumulating pressure in the name of ensuring quality.

I would take to my undergraduate and graduate classes any theory, method, tips on writing or speaking. That’s how the concept would matter to others and get registered and matured as valuable knowledge for myself. I must have scribbled the largest number of junks during the formative years. The junks were the most original things about my learning and experiences. They still look dearer than the 351-page ‘final’ dissertation.

PhD gave me many good things, especially the readings that were useful to life if not to the dissertation and degree. The materials wait to be revisited, helped to mature and brought to their actual discourse community. They continue to claim to have been the degree’s legitimate offspring.

I understand that the product of PhD (dissertation/thesis) is specific for a small discourse community. Not many people will and have to understand the work. Parts of it may come to a wider network of readers only if the writer opts to work beyond the degree either into a book or a journal article if only he or she is in or joins a university teaching position.

Once your work is brought to the public, every literate person appears to believe and may sometimes brag that they could have done as good or even better if they had thought about doing what you have done. But you are the only person who did it. The work is unique. And you are your own reader. Your supervisor has read it, plus a few people in the evaluation committee. Except for five or six persons, the product may have only a very small audience in the future. I am sure not more than half a dozen people have read my thesis. I only hope some people will read part of it if they happen to work on an identical topic. Else, as far as the saying of many goes, it will remain proudly at a corner accumulating dust – for ages.

What do you find out, or develop out of half-a-dozen years’ straining? Perhaps, you create knowledge, or a perspective. Or you have uttered a popular idea in a more interesting and philosophical way. Someone else can give equal scholarly hue and worth to similar task later. But for the moment yours has got qualified, it is the only work on earth that can claim novelty if it is novel.

Nevertheless, the dissertation is not out to change the world, neither the degree it brings, but you are. You are at least expected to initiate some kind of change.

The people from your scholarly network may read you and try to make a difference. You have not closed the lid for new perspectives. You cannot do so. You only transfer one perspective to your community and hint at new avenues of reflection. If one PhD ended all possibilities, we would have been mugging up stale thoughts and moth-eaten books and none would ever think of sweating for three to six years.

The hard-bound black book is only a signifier that a section of the work in continuum has taken a tangible shape. Every dissertation is in the making. It is just a beginning. A ‘finalized’ work has several other works ingrained in it. Only some curious and profoundly informed scholar can interpret the text and nourish its discursive embryo into one or more useful births later. The continuum exists. A scholar in discourse lives in this continuum.

The author: Dr. Kafle is an assistant professor and coordinator at humanities and management unit, school of engineering, Kathmandu University Nepal.

 

 

Issues and Challenges of Teaching Creative Writing

Sudip Neupane

Sudip Neupane

Writing simply refers to the graphic representation of language. It is taken as an act of transmitting thoughts, feelings and ideas from mind to paper. As a student of ELT, I cannot write a paragraph, compose a poem or even narrate a short story. I have been practicing to write for more than fifteen years but I cannot write what I want, and how I want. The problem I was facing with regard to creative writing encouraged me to look out for the issues and challenges in teaching creative writing. Had my teacher taught me about creative writing while I was in school, I would have been able to write creative writing such as poetry, drama, story and so on. Creative writing is personal writing where the purpose is to express thoughts, feeling and emotions. Creative writing is expressed in an imaginative, unique, and sometimes poetic way. According to Harmer, “The term creative writing suggests imaginative tasks, such as writing poetry, stories and plays.” So it represents teaching writing of all genre of literature such as drama, fiction, poetry, personal narration, story and so on. According to Gaffield-Vile (1998), “Creative writing is a journey of self-discovery, and self-discovery prompts effective learning” (p. 31).

Morley (2007) states, “Some people believe there is something new or untested about the discipline of creative writing” (p. 7). Teaching creative writing is a very challenging job to the teachers even though they have lots of knowledge about subject matter. It is because of developed form or genre of language which expresses ideas, information and thoughts by graphic representation.  I believe that the aim of teaching creative writing is to make the students able to express themselves in different literary forms. If a teacher gives imaginative writing tasks to the students, they will be engaged and self motivated to write frequently, so it is effective way to improve their skill and ability of language. There are so many issues and challenges of teaching creative writing like critical analysis, formation and structure, wider area, individual variation, untrained English teachers, insufficient time for instruction, lack of resources and materials which are discussed below in details.

Issues and Challenges of teaching creative writing

Harmer (2008) states, “The kind of writing we ask students to do (and the way they we ask them to do it) will depend, as most other things do, on their age, level, learning styles, and interests” ( p. 112).

Different Genre/forms of literature

There are various branches or forms of literature which is called genre. Harmer (2008) states, “A genre is a type of writing which members of a discourse community would instantly recognize for what it was. Thus we recognize a small ad in a newspaper the moment we see it because, being members of a particular group, or community, we have seen many such texts before and are familiar with the way they are constructed” (p. 113).  These genres have their own rules, regulations, norms, values, principles, theories, structural patterns, features, types, formations and so on. The teachers have to build creative writing. For this they have to engage the students with creative writing activities which are easy and interesting to take part in, so it helps students to achieve the success in their writing. When students have gained sufficient knowledge of creative writing they can develop writing habit. Therefore the teacher should have the knowledge to teach different genres to make his/her students able to write creative writing.

Individual difference

Different individual may produce equally good results through widely different process. This means that there is probably no one ‘right’ system of writing that we should recommend; rather, we should suggest available various possible strategies, encouraging individuals to experiment and search for one that is personally effective (Ur, 1996).

Lack of Motivation

Motivation is commonly thought of as an inner drive, impulse, emotion or desire that moves one to a particular action. It is the main determinants of teaching creative writing. “It is easier and more useful to think in terms of the ‘motivated’ learner: one who is willing or even eager to invest effort in learning activities and progress” (Ur, 1996 p. 274). The more you motivate the students the more students are motivated and get ready for creative writing so it helps the teachers to teach creative writing effectively. Motivation promotes students’ active participation, so it helps the students to give uniqueness in learning, background for creative writing, and process of creative writing. Motivation helps teachers to provide ability to the students and make learners  write creative writing. So we can say that motivation aids the students to achieve success in their creative writing attempts.

Untrained English teachers

The untrained teacher cannot teach the process of different genre of literature as equal as trained teacher. S/he lacks proper knowledge and will not be able to provide good ideas to write creatively and use different strategies and techniques to involve the students in creative writing. For example there are various ways of teaching poem like, acrostic poem (a poem where certain letters in each letters spells out a word or phrase), opposites poem (a poem where two opposite things can exist side by side in a person or situation), group poem (a poem written in a group where at least a line will be contributed by one person of a group) and so on.

Insufficient time for instruction

Teachers and students have limited time for their teaching and learning process in given time framework of institutions. Both students and teachers are inhibited by time, so creative writing is compelled to be taught only for the completion of the lessons. As a result, all the composition lessons are given to the students as homework and another aspect to the students’ difficulties is the perception that taking much time to write a composition is a sign of failure on their part. Unfortunately, students and teachers apparently fail to utilize the opportunity to process writing to fulfill their tasks satisfactorily. “The lack of the use of time to develop students’ creative writing skills led problems in teaching creative writing”(Adeyemi, 2012).

Focus on Surface Errors

Teachers are habituated to assess the students’ writing on surface errors by their profession. They give feedback to the students regarding spelling, punctuation instead of students’ creativity which doesn’t help to improve students’ creative writing ability. As the main focus is on structure as opposed to content or meaning, the students’ compositions will be meaningless and valueless. So intentionally or not, unsatisfactory message goes to the students, which indicates their lack of grammar, structure, punctuation rather than main issues or students’ intention of creative writing. Their intention, their creativity, their ideas and their effort goes unnoticed as teachers mostly focus on the surface errors and fail to acknowledge the hard work the students have attempted. It makes students hesitate and frustrated in themselves in their writing because of spelling, surface error, and punctuation marker. Certainly, there is more to composition writing than the mere issues of spelling and punctuation. Thus it indicates that it is not easy to teach creative writing to the students.

Writing Process

Writing process is also an issue in teaching creative writing. Some of the learner differences are because of their age, practice, motivation, cultural background, particular group etc. These create challenge to teach writing process to the students. Harmer (2008) states that, when students are writing for writing, we will want to involve them in the process of writing. In the real world; this typically involves planning what we are going to write, drafting it, reviewing and editing what we have written and then producing a final version. We will need to encourage students to plan, draft and edit for teaching creative writing so it is very challenging task for the teachers.

Prevention of issues and challenges of teaching creative writing

In order to prevent these issues and challenges, I have discussed some prevention and solutions in detail.

Assessing creative writing

Assessing creative writing helps students know their position and about their creativity through writing. So the teacher should evaluate creative writing by using the same criteria as for different genre. Morley (2007) states that, essays and examination materials tend to be assessed using the same criteria as for an expository essay. Creative writing is judged mostly by literary criteria, and these criteria may fit the critical mind but are not always sympathetic to emotional and personal matters (Hunt, 2001). They should give more emphasis on the importance of original creative writing and evaluate to give appropriate grade by feeling, imagining and involving as like as a real writer of creative writing.

Effective Instruments

Students must have access to high quality instruction designed to help them meet high expectations regarding creative writing. So the teachers should employ different strategies such as motivating; providing opportunities to write creative writing, providing concepts and teaching them to write creatively and employ those concepts; providing imaginative thinking and writing that connects their writing across different genre of literature and providing individual guidance, assistance, and support to fill gaps in background knowledge of creative writing.

Clinical Teaching

Clinical teaching takes place in the context of patient care. It is an intensely personal relationship between students and teacher so it is carefully sequenced. First teachers teach skills, subjects, concepts and process of creative writing; then they re-teach different strategies or approaches to the students to involve them in creative writing such as poetry, story, and drama to those who fail to meet expected performance level of creative writing after initial instruction; finally, they evaluate and provide feedback of creative writing to the students. Teachers conduct creative writing assessment to monitor the students’ progress and instruct them to modify their writing if necessary. Teacher should deal with anxiety, challenges to authority, and lead stimulating discussions and labs. To teach effectively, the teacher should respond appropriately to shy, withdrawn, or disruptive students and use technology more and more for clinical teaching effectively.

Collaborative Writing

Collaborative writing makes the students active in writing that helps teacher to teach creative writing to his/her students in effective way. Harmer (2008) states that, students gain a lot from constructing texts together. For example, if teacher sets up a story circle and provide the hints or starting line and asks the students, the students easily form or construct whole story by discussion and prediction. Strip story activity also helps to teach story to the students in a collaborative way and helps students to engage in creative writing with their full interest.

Creative writing exercise

Teachers should offer some well-tried classroom activities that may motivate students to want to write in English. It proves, ‘practice makes a man perfect’. Likewise doing some creative writing exercises during the class and in leisure can help the students’ to write creatively. If the teacher asks the students’ to write lots of creative writing exercises, it can give support their creative writing and generate in them creative ideas. So the very best method to teach creative writing is by providing creative exercises to the students.

There are different types of teaching writing; guided writing, parallel writing and free writing that will help students to produce appropriate texts even with fairly limited English. However, as their language level improves, we need to make sure that their creative writing begins to express their own creativity through different genre of literature.

Conclusion

Teaching creative writing is very challenging task to the language teachers because of lack of time, motivation, lack of training and building the writing habit as well as creative writing involves various genre of literature such as drama, fiction, poetry, personal narration, story and so on. So it is very difficult to teach creative writing to the students. The main problems in teaching creative writing are different genre/forms of literature, individual difference, lack of motivation, untrained English teacher, insufficient time for instruction, focus on surface errors, writing process and to prevent these issues and challenges of teaching creative writing we can employ assessing creative writing, effective instruments, clinical teaching, creative writing exercise, instant writing, collaborative writing, writing in other genre, using music and pictures and so on.

The author is perusing his Master’s degree in ELT at Kathmandu University School of Education (KUSOED). Currently, he is teaching in a private school in Kathmandu as a secondary level English teacher.

REFERENCE

Harmer, J. (2008). How to teach English. Longman, England: Pearson Education Limited

Hunt, C. (2001). Assessing Personal writing, Autobiography

Mills, P. (2006). The Routledge Creative Creative writing Coursebook . Routledge .

Morley, D. (2007). Introduction to Creative Writing . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Spiro, J. (2004). Creative Poetry Writing . Great Clarendon Street, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ur, P. (1996). A Course in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

 

My Journey of Journal Writing

Santona Neupane

A few months back I found myself counting the notebooks and diaries I had received in 2013 alone. They were given to me by my near and dear ones, assuming I would put them into good use, owing to the fact that I love writing. Including the two that I had bought for myself, the total was nine. Embarrassing thing though, was that, all the notebooks-except one- were empty. It was high time I did something about those notebooks. To put them to good use, I started to reflect on my days and jot them down on those notebooks. Not only did I put those notebooks into good use, I even established a writing habit: the one that helped not only me but would eventually help my students as well. In this article, I am going to talk about how journal writing helped me and my students become more expressive and creative in our writing. Further on, I will discuss why I think teachers need to implement this technique to improve students’ writing skill.

I teach in a secondary school and the students I was teaching were not good at writing creatively. We know teaching is a dynamic process and we learn as we teach. When things do not go as you plan, you have to look for alternatives. And thus I looked around for different approaches that might help my students. As I guided and taught them a thing or two about writing, I found that they did write but they were not enthusiastic about it. And, improving their overall language skills was another matter. That’s when I thought about journal writing, as it was helping me as well in my writing.

I hence proposed the students a journal writing project. The requirement was simple – write down about your day, every day. The students were under no restrictions except to write daily. They were free to write whatever they liked, however they liked and write how much long they wanted to. My condition was I would check their work initially to provide feedback and when it would be evident that they are able to do it on their own, I would read their work only if they wanted me to.

The initial entries included what they did at certain time that day.  Now as a reader that’s hardly something that excites. I suggested them to drop the conventional diary writing style they had acquired and to focus on only one important moment or event of the day. To break established habit is quite difficult and it was really hard for them to change their habit yet with persistence and practice they were able to achieve this.

The next step was to help them describe their day in terms of their senses. We had a class specially focused on five senses. At first, the students were given a magazine cutout of a beautiful scenery. They had to imagine themselves in that particular place and describe it in term as of sight, smell, sound, taste and feeling. This proved to be a useful exercise which helped the students to be expressive about their feelings.

Following the example of my own teacher, I asked them to be personal in their journal writing. I told them to be reflective and that their writing needed to mirror their individual self. Even though I had told them I wouldn’t read their entry if they didn’t want to give it to me, they insisted I read it and provide feedback. Following a month or so the writings they produced went through some transformation but there were still some exceptions. Once, on reading the entry of a class, I saw that everyone had written about the same event that had happened the previous day. Though the event was same, the perspective differed with different entries. With the permission of the class, the students presented the entries and we held a discussion on how each of them had different perspectives. This proved to be an interesting topic for discussion and by the end of the lesson students were aware of the difference and had a new understanding.

I would be lying if I said that journal writing transformed each and every student’s writing skill. Some of the students continued to produce uninspired entries. No doubt, they had followed my instructions yet their entries lacked life as they had detached themselves from their entry. But I asked them to continue writing to establish the habit. Once I found an approach of a student quite innovative and interesting; and with her permission, I shared it with others as well. She had described a typical winter morning in such a way it seemed as if everything was gloomy and dreary. Then her writing moved on to describe a transformation: as the fog cleared she described how she could see things clearly which only moments before, seemed blocked. This opened a new dynamics for others. They started to experiment different forms as there weren’t any particular restriction on how to write. Some of the entries that were produced were in the form of verse, drawings, haikus etc.

This writing project was a stepping stone for me as a teacher and for my students as writers. We did not have a separate time allocated for this writing class. As the work progressed I guided, taught and provided feedback to them within the regular classes and sometimes during break time. Time and again I shared my entries with them and that helped them.

Journal writing can be a special tool for your students to improve their writing skills; one that doesn’t take much resource and time. There is a high chance of this turning into a habit for life. It encourages them to reflect on certain element of their day and examine it. It awakens the writer in them and as is the nature of humans they look for ways to be more creative with it. This even helped my students produce poems and stories. It became a medium to share their views, ideas, opinion and feelings. The continuous writing helped them to be descriptive and expressive in their other writings as well.

Not only this opened a new way of understanding for my students, it also helped me to develop myself as a teacher. The problem had been bugging me for a long time and it encouraged me to look for ways. I had to do something. My personal experience, few suggestions from my teacher and inspiration from a Hollywood flick helped me conceptualize this project and few adjustments along the way helped this journey to be smoother.

santona

Santona Neupane
M.Ed. ELT, Second Semester
Kathmandu University

 

In the Mission of Grooming Young Creative Minds

*Jeevan Karki, www.merocreation.com

jk.pravat85@yahoo.com

Hello Sir!!!!! 

am (I’m) missing u a lot especially when the english periods go no quite monotonous. anwy (anyway) am f9 (fine) n doing gud. hope u r also f9 n u know wt(what) sir i started writing poem frm grade 10 n till date i hav completed 50 poems. shocking na!!!! n sir i would really lik to thank u as u inspired me to write the poems. eventhough that time we didn’t use to write bt (but) with the passage of tim i also got the knowledge abt why u were so eager regarding student’s creativity. all the credit goes to u. thank u so much sir!

really missing u sir!

Sakshi

I received this mail on July 20, 2012. The sender by now is obvious. She is one of the students I taught in grade eight, two years before the date mentioned above. I used to teach her both English language and literature. In the parents-teachers meeting, the parents often used to complain (and still do) about their children not being creative and just cramming overnight for exams. Most of the time, we teachers keep the issue of creativity aside by telling them it is the matter of innate quality, hard work of students and support of guardians. Blah, blah, blah. However, the kind of activities we do in the classroom and the sort of home assignment we assign also have something to do with students’ creativity. Soon after the parents-teachers meeting, a three-week winter vacation was going to kick off. As a vacation work, this time I thought of assigning a bit different work rather than telling them ‘do exercises from page number this to that’. I gave them some reading work and creative writing. As for the second one, they were supposed to come up with some kind of free writing such as poems, stories, songs, travelogues, essays, diary writing (memorable days), etc. First, they looked puzzled, for they were not used to this kind of assignment. So I gave them guidelines to write and also declared that best writings would be sent for newspapers in order to encourage them. The vacation was over. However, I was not very hopeful that everybody would bring their assignment. To my surprise, everybody brought some writing. Some even brought two writings. I went through them in my free time and found most of them original and creative. Now I was in trouble. As I promised, the writings had to be sent to the newspapers but there were too many. Then I decided to publish a class magazine and shared the idea. Then, I divided the responsibility, making sure that everybody is involved. They worked with their group members in their free time in school and at home without disturbing their regular studies. After a month, each class had their own mesmerizing wall magazine. The parents were pleased to see the outcome in the final parents- teachers meeting and the school administration also took the effort positively and published that news in the school news bulletin too. It could also be one of the reasons that I got a promotion the next session. However, I did not wish to continue working there because I got a better opportunity in another institution.

In the next institution too, I pondered some better ideas of developing creativity of these young minds through free writing. In place of a wall magazine I was thinking of other reliable and long- lasting alternative, which could also include young students from other schools. However, the session was towards the edge without materializing any concrete idea. There was one creative colleague, who belonged to computer faculty, Mr. Krishna Subedi. He is also a web designer and developer. I talked to him and finally we decided to do something on the Web. Then we launched a website or webzine on May 2012. We named it merocreation.com.

We started this small venture for giving young creative minds an open creative platform with the motto “encouraging and energizing the young creative”. Initially, only two of us used to work. Mr Subedi looked after technical aspects while I devoted myself to the content area. We started with the creative writings of the students of our schools. Later, the visitors multiplied and we started receiving the writing from other institutions too. We kept modifying and beautifying the site but because of the overflow of the visitors only we two could not handle it. So we developed a team of thirteen members, including an advisor. It was after two months of the inception of the webzine, I received the above mail from Sakshi.

The mission of creative writing has kept me in touch with so many old students, including Sakshi. There is a boy named Samyam Shrestha, who published few stories in the webzine (he had published not a single story anywhere). His stories are mostly read and liked by the visitors. He mailed me around six months back and said that he wanted to publish a story collection. He is an eleventh grader now. There is another girl named Reeti KC from the same level. She is very good in poetry and has published many poems in the webzine and also in the national newspapers. She mailed me recently stating she has made up her mind for publishing a poem collection and asked me to edit it. It shows that something is going on. Something is happening. The webzine has been grooming these young minds and providing them with an interactive platform. This is also a part of language teaching; language teaching through creative writing.

How to accommodate creative writing in the language class?

It is a frequently asked question by language teachers. They say that they have to complete the syllabus, focus on exams and all students expect good grades. Therefore, there is no time for creative writing. Please do accept that I also have the same problem like yours. We are the birds of the same feathers. Despite all these things, it is possible to accommodate creative writing in the language class.

The first and basic thing is to be self-conscious about our students’ creative writing. When we assign them any writing, we have to make sure there is an adequate space for creativity. Whatever students do and write, we can give it a creative flavor. I call this process an inductive approach to creative writing. Here the teacher gives students the usual class assignment or home assignment, but it is given consciously having space for imagination, logic and noble ideas. Then when students submit the assignment, the teacher has to check the writing through the lenses of creativity. As per the feedback, the teacher can point out the area where the juice of creativity and elements of imagination, logic and noble ideas can be incorporated. Also, they should be asked to re-write so that their writing is publishable somewhere. Let’s take an example, how we can change letter writing into a creative activity.

Suppose, I am teaching students of the lower secondary level to write a letter to their brother or sister who is addicted to social networking sites. The letter can include some constructive suggestions to minimize the habit of always hanging on the sites and also the ideas of using social networking sites for educational purposes. If the letter includes these things, it will be an informative article for many people and hence it is publishable as a creative writing. However, the ideas need to be practical and the language needs refining. Here comes the role of a teacher. There should be discussion and brainstorming before assigning such an activity. After they write, the teacher can ask students to read each other’s writings and offer feedback. Similarly, he or she can also form a group of more-able students as the editors of the class. In the first phase, they can help the teacher to sort out the writing then the teacher can go through them. This will develop a habit of learning in collaboration, a sense of responsibility and togetherness in the language class, which after all will minimize the teacher’s burden.

Similarly, if I am teaching letter writing to students of secondary level, it is not necessary I always teach them to write letter to their fathers for asking pocket money and so on. I can also teach them writing letter to Prime Minister regarding how to stop corruption in the country.  It will be a highly creative writing and publishable in the newspapers, webzines and other magazines. The same technique can be applied to other types of writing like paragraph writing, essay writing and so on. To the same token, in a bit long break, we can give students the writing tasks which are creative by nature like poems, stories, essays, travelogues, songs, book/film reviews and so on. In my case, in the vacation like term break, Dashain-Tihar vacation, winter vacation, I assign them to read novels or story books and write their own reviews (applicable especially for the secondary level). In this way our students do creative writing without being much conscious that they are doing it. That is why I call it the inductive approach to creative writing. Without telling anything like, “Okay class, today we are going to do CREATIVE WRITING…!” we can engage our students in creative writing activities. However, the continuity of this process depends on teachers’ readiness and reward. As per the first one, as you are reading this article, it is sufficient that you are ready for students’ creative writing and now it is the second one to think of. It is very important that students be rewarded for their creative work, and the most valuable reward for them is publishing their work in magazines or webzines.

Why webzine?

I said that the publication of students’ creative writing is the best award and it is true. There is a girl in my class, who is very good in her study. Seeing her friend publishing articles in the newspapers and magazines, she also sent some but they never got published. She got frustrated and never tried again. Then she stopped writing completely. I came to learn about that and asked her to show her writings. I checked them, gave some feedback and asked her to rewrite. She did and it was published in the webzine. The publication of her article sparked a wave of euphoria in her and she resumed her writing. Now she often writes and publishes. There might be many hidden potential young minds not getting a suitable platform. Of course, there are newspapers and children magazines, which publish the creative writings of students but they are few and have to look all over the nation and hence cannot give space to all children. So we need to look for an alternative. In order to promote language and creative writing, we can publish school magazines giving space for all the students in school. Similarly, we can also publish the class wall magazine, which can give space to more students of a class. I tried these and found them only being confined to school and failing to be long lasting. Then I started this webzine, which has multiple advantages. Students can get their writings published instantly. It has global access and the writing can be viewed anytime from anywhere. Students can also share it with their relatives who are in another corner of the world. Similarly, another important thing is it is highly interactive. They can get instant feedback from their readers. In this forum, they can find so many like-minded young people writing, publishing, reading and commenting each others’ work. This will give students a creative and productive environment. All these things will encourage them to keep writing. However, they do not find all these facilities in the print media. In the same way, students (especially from the town area) today spend their time surfing the Internet rather than going through the printed materials. So this is also an attempt of developing a culture of doing academic activities in the World Wide Web. It is undoubtedly a great platform for developing language and creative writing among young learners.

However, it does not imply that all English language teachers need to have their own webzine. If you can have, that’s superb. If it is not possible, you can try the alternatives discussed above. In the same way, you can consider this webzine as your own and send the writings of your students to publish there or encourage them to send themselves. As being one of the content editors of the webzine, I suggest teachers that they read the writing of their students and give feedback before sending for publication. Spending some time in this webzine will help students develop their language and creativity. Besides creative writing, they also can find some useful academic and non-academic resources in this webzine. This is purely an academic and creative mission; a mission to develop language through creative writing. We are trying to teach language to our students but now let’s also try to teach the creative use of language. Let’s teach them to play with words and learn art of words. Children have a lot of energy and ‘crazy ideas’. They are highly imaginative. Let’s provide them with some scaffolding. Let’s convert their energy and ideas into creativity. Merocreation.com can be a forum to groom young and creative minds to be a creative citizen of the globe. So let’s join our hand together in this mission.

Finally, I’d like to express my gratitude to Mr. Subedi, Kigan Khadka, a web designer and developer, and all team members: Akrin Adhikari, Jeevanpanee, KP Ghimire, Kumar Narayan Shrestha, Megh Raj Shrestha, Ranjana Khaniya, Richa Bhattarai, Sanjaya Karki and Upendra Subedi for their support and inspiration.

* Jeevan Karki teaches at Graded Medium English School (GEMS), Lalitpur. His areas of interest include creative writing, translation and documentary making. 

Creative Writing for Students and Teachers: Some Practical Ideas

 Alan Maley

UK

 

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.

Acrostics

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:

Docile

Obedient

Growling

 

  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:

 

Lying

Everywhere –

Autumn

Falling.

 

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

Kathmandu

 

Exercises

Understanding the Story

How did Puspa Basnet get involved with helping the children?

 

Vocabulary

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

Gorkha

 

Exercises

Understanding the Story

What is a moral for this story?

 

Vocabulary

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.

Creative Writing for Students and Teachers

Alan Maley

U.K.

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

 

     Instrumental

 

     Facts

 

     External control

 

     Conventions

 

     Logical

 

     Analytical

 

     Impersonal

 

     Thinking mode

 

    Appeal to the intellect

 

    Avoidance of ambiguity

 

    Aesthetic

 

    Imagination

 

    Internal discipline

 

    Stretching rules

 

    Intuitive

 

    Associative

 

    Personal

 

    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

general.

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.

References

Arnold, Jane.  (1999).  Affect in Language Learning.  Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press.

Boden, Margaret.  (1998)  The Creative Mind.  London: Abacus.

Carter, Ronald.  (2004)  Language and Creativity: the art of common talk.  London: Routledge.

Cook, Guy.  (2000)  Language Play: Language Learning.  Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press.

Craik, F.I.M. and R.S. Lockhart (1972)  ‘Levels of processing: a framework for memory research.’  Journal for verbal learning and Verbal Behaviour II: 617-84.

Crystal, David. (1998)  Language Play.  London: Penguin.

Davie, Donald (1994)  Purity of Diction in English Verse and Articulate Energy.  London: Carcanet.

Day, Richard and Julian Bamford.  (1998)  Extensive Reading in the Second Language Classroom.  Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press

Dornyei ,Zoltan  (2001) Motivational Strategies in the Language Classroom.  Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press.

Gardner,  Howard. (1985)  Frames of Mind.  London: Paladin Books

Gleick, James. (1988)  Chaos.  London: Sphere Books

Koch, Kenneth. (1990) Rose, where did you get that red?  New York: Vintage Books.

Krashen, Stephen  (2004 second edition) The Power of Reading.  PortsmouthNH: Heinemann

Maley, Alan (ed) (2007 a)) Asian Short Stories for Young Readers.  Vol. 4.  Petaling Jaya: Pearson/Longman Malaysia

Maley, Alan (ed)  (2007 b))  Asian Poems for Young Readers. Vol.5. Petaling Jaya:Pearson/Longman Malaysia.

Maley, Alan and Jayakaran Mukundan.  (eds) (2005 a))  Asian Stories for Young Readers, Vol 1   Petaling Jaya: Pearson/Longman Malaysia.

Maley, Alan and Jayakaran Mukundan  (eds)  (2005 b))  Asian Stories for Young Learners. Vol. 2  Petaling Jaya: Pearson Malaysia

Maley, Alan and Jayakaran Mukundan (eds) (2005 c) Asian Poems for Young Readers.Vol. 3.   Petaling Jaya: Pearson/Longman.

Maley, Alan and Jayakaran Mukundan (eds) (2011a)) Asian Short Stories for Young Readers.  Petaling Jaya: Pearson Malaysia

Maley, Alan and Jayakaran Mukundan (eds)  (2011 b)) Asian Poems for Young Readers. Petaling Jaya: Pearson Malaysia.

Maley, Alan and Jayakaran Mukundan (2011 c))  Writing Poems: a resource book for teachers of English.  Petaling Jaya: Pearson Malaysia

Maley, Alan and Jayakaran Mukundan (2011 d))  Writing Stories; a resource book for teachers of English.  Petaling Jaya: Pearson Mal.aysia

McRae, John  (1991) Literature with a Small ‘l’.  Oxford.: Macmillan.

Matthews, Paul. 1994. Sing Me the Creation.  Stroud:Hawthorn Press.

Mukundan, Jayakaran.  (ed)  (2006) Creative Writing in EFL/ESL Classrooms II.  Petaling Jaya: Pearson Longman Malaysia

Rubdy, Rani and Mario Saraceni (eds) (2006) English in the World: Global Rules, Global Roles.  London/New York: Continuum.

Schmidt, Richard (1990).  ‘The role of  consciousness in second language learning’.  Applied Linguistics. Vol. 11, No. 2 129-158.  Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press.

Schumacher, E.F.  (1974).  Small is Beautiful.  London: Abacus/Sphere Books

Spiro, Jane  (2004)  Creative Poetry Writing.  Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press.

Spiro, Jane.  (2006)  Creative Story-building.  Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press.

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

U.S.A.

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

Malaysia

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!

Birgunj Truly Represents Nepal

-Vishnu S Rai

Place: Kailash Hotel, Birgunj

Date and time: March 8, 7 PM.

We are standing at the threshold of the hotel to greet the members of the Asian English Teachers’ Creative Writing Group (AETCWG). There is excitement in the air. People are expectant: cameras ready.

A Hias approaches us slowly and stops. The doors open and produces Jay from Malaysia, Iqbal from Pakistan, Kanokon from Thailand, Li Wei from China and Moti, Sarita, Tapasi and Maya from Kathmandu in a row. Then, slowly from the open door emerges the saintly figure of Alan Maley from the UK. Cameras start clicking, there are handshakes and the sounds of pleasures, “Nice to see you again’, ‘Welcome to Nepal’ are heard. The group is joined by Kirk from the USA and the group slowly enters the hotel.

They are the members of the AETCWG who have come to Birgunj from different parts of the globe to meet at their annual meeting and produce creative works that can be used in ELT classrooms on one hand, and to help develop creativity in those English teachers of the region who aspire to be creative. They are here to break the myth that only the god-gifted people can be creative.

Man is not anything by birth

He is what he makes himself

By passion,

Diligence, and

hard work.

9th March: Workshop Day 1

The first day of the workshop starts with introduction of the new members from Birgunj. They are Sajan Kumar, Suresh Shrestha, Ram Abadhesh Ray, Praveen Yadav, Kamalesh Raut and Jyoti Tiwari. The best thing of AETCWG workshop is that there are no formalities of opening, etc. It starts its works like a big family. There is no President or General Secretary and there is no membership fee. Anyone can be the member of the group provided that they, from the bottom of their heart, want to write.

Alan does some warm activities and then the members start looking at each other’s writings for the sake of discussion, constructive comments and feedback. They work for the whole day until it’s time to stop. One example is given below which is based on the painting ‘Nighthawk’.

Empty city

With light and all

Preoccupied people

With lost soul.

Lots of food

But no apetite

Lost in thought

Tongue tied.

Eerie feeling

Gloomy atmosphere

Empty heart

Nothing to share.

Neither they want

to show nor to be seen

In this very world

We pay for our sin.

10th March: Workshop Day 2

The group is ready to go for a writing trip. Each member has been asked to observe things on the way and make notes which can later be developed into poems and haibuns.  The group reaches Trikhandi –the crystal clear water of the river is hurrying down like someone who hurries to meet their love. People are bathing in the river and the goddess watches them benevolently from her little temple perched on a rock just over the river.

The group later visits the martyr park and pays their homage to those brave sons of Nepal who sacrificed their lives for us so that we could breathe in the free and fresh air of democracy. The group returns to Kailash at 6. An example from the writing trip is given below in the form of a haiku.

A chimney and a

Hospital stands side by side

Demand and supply

11th March: Workshop Day 3

The group members present their creative ideas and activities that can be used in the actual classroom situation. For example, the members were asked to pick up a stone which they liked and observe it carefully: its colour, shape, size, touch everything, and then write about it in the first person as if the stone was telling its story. The same could be done with the students. I picked up a small stone which was smooth by touch and had the shape of a heart. Here is what I wrote about it. Other members also wrote about their stone and each writing was different

I’m a stone.

I’m the heart stone.

You might think how could there be a heart stone.

But I am.

I’m the heart stone.

No, seriously.

Look at me!

You see my shape? It’s like a heart.

Touch me!

Do you feel my softness?

No, no. Please don’t rub me with your rough fingers.

Put me onto your cheek and then you’ll feel how soft a heart is.

I’m not a heart made of stone.

I’m the heart stone.

Would you pick me up?

I suggest you should.

You can take me to your love, to your sweetheart.

They will be so happy.

A heart stone as a souvenir from a river of Nepal.

And what’s better than making your love smile which brightens your own heart.

Would you now pick me up?

Gently please!

For I’m the heart stone.

The workshop ends with the discussion of publishing the workshop products and the next meeting of the group in some other country.

12 March: Conference Day 1

The conference starts one hour late which is unusual to the foreign guests. Some muttering and grumbling are heard but later they realize that it is not a big deal in Nepal to be late.

How time flies for non-Nepalis

When they are having fun

It travels slowly for Nepalis

Like a penguin walks in the sun

The conference was inaugurated by Prof. Dr. Gobinda Raj Bhattarai which was followed by the presentation of the keynote speaker Prof. Alan Maley. Next: Dr. Kirk form the US gave his plenary talk which was followed by the concurrent sessions.

It was a pleasant surprise to find participants in such a great number from the adjacent districts viz. Dhanusha, Mahottari, Bara, Makwanpur and as far as from Kailali.

13th March: Conference Day 2

The second day of the conference started with the plenary from Prof. Dr. Bhattarai, followed by Dr. Vishnu S Rai and Prof. Dr. Jayakaran Munkundan. After the lunch break concurrent sessions started.

One of the special features of the conference was that at the end there was poetry recitation programme for one and a half hours in which poets recited the poems in five different languages viz. English, Nepali, Bhojpuri, Maithili, and Punjabi. Here is a poem recited in the ceremony.

My Child’s Eyes

I walked through the windows

Of my child’s eyes

Into a world of wonder

Where the grass is always green,

No sky is ever anything but blue,

The sun shines eternally from one corner,

Houses puff dainty smoke for ever –

And people never cry.

A land of bright-eyed foxes,

Breathtaking birds,

(Occasionally flying upside-down),

Daddies and mummies,

And people who never die.

And then I walked out again,

Crying for the innocence she’ll lose.

I walked through the window of my child’s heart –

Trying not to break it.

Birgunj hospitality

The members of the group were overwhelmed by the generous hospitability of the host. They were taken to different local members’ home for dinner to taste typical hill and Terai dishes of Nepal. They ate Gundruk and Dhindo, Dahibada and Kadhi,  Mohi and Lassi and what not. Nepal is a multilingual, multicultural country and the work/conference reflected it in its papers, its poems, its food and its cultural performances. This was a great experience. Birgunj truly represents Nepal –a town where Hills and Terai and their different cultures and languages meet together and turn into a mosaic.

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