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.

English Language Teaching and Larger Pursuits of Life

Indra Bahadur Ter

Far Western Development Region, Nepal

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

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

Field-specific professional excellence

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

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

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

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

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

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

English for art and literature: a euphoric pursuit

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

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

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.

Blog on Creative Writing Workshop and Conference in Birgunj, Nepal

Li Wei

China

March 9-13th, 2013

This is my fifth time attending Creative Writing Workshop since 2006. I have been to Vietnam, Indonesia, and Nepal with other core group members during the past few years. Birgunj has been my second trip in Nepal. I have had wonderful memories about the beauty of local natural scenery and the hospitality of local people. The experience in Birgunj has deepened the unforgettable impression of Nepalese culture and people.

Every time when I prepared to attend the creative writing workshop, I went through a very energetic and productive period of writing. The time constraints pushed me to engage in the writing, thinking, creating and rewriting cycles. My mind has been occupied by the inspiration of creative impulse and the floating images occurring from my life experience and my imagination. I was often tortured by the writer’s block at the very beginning. Facing the blank paper, my mind was full of unknown thoughts. It seemed so difficult to get started sometimes that I switched to absent-minded state. Usually, the nervous mind got relaxed during the time. Then the inspiration returned little by little and the writing process started from the moment I typed in words on the computer screen. Once I started writing, my hands would be led by the inner talk or ideas appearing in mind. As an effective way for me to keep writing creatively, free writing helped a lot.

Writing leads to rewriting. It becomes much easier to rewrite or revise once there are plenty of words on paper waiting to be reshaped and processed. Our brain works better under a little bit pressure but not so well under an enormous burden of the external or internal pressure. Facing a blank page brings much more pressure for a novice writer, which stops him or her to pick up courage and start writing. While facing a fully occupied written page, the brain is more relaxed and ready to cut dissatisfied parts and add more details from visualization. After some practice, gradually I come to understand the tips of overcoming writer’s block, which are free writing without self-judgment or self-criticism and fast writing without thinking too hard or worrying too much. Free writing and fast writing are the two best ways for me to start writing and keep on writing whenever I face the blank page. In addition, extensive reading and journal writing can also bring inspiration now and then.

Things are getting much easier when the first draft is ready to be read. Revision is cooking a ready-made dish with some sources and refreshing views. Inspiration only comes naturally after racking one’s brain. It is a bit like giving birth to a baby. Thinking is the pregnant process and inspiration is like the hard push. The new-born baby looks ugly as if the first draft seems rough and imperfect at the first glance. Revision and rewriting are the upbringing process, which take a lot of energy of the writer but the writing piece is taking shape after some hard work. In the creative writing workshop, every participant shows others his or her prepared writing as if showing the photos of the cute baby. Then the readers are supposed to give comments or suggestions to the writer.

The communication between the readers and the writers is crucial during the revision process. The writer can receive different opinions from different readers and find out the weaknesses or shortcomings in his or her writing as well as the positive feedback about the writing. The whole communication process is carried out in a friendly and helpful atmosphere. No one should be laughed at or belittled during the mutual comment process. It is often an interesting process to discover how your readers understand your story or poems in a slightly different way according to their own life experiences and cultural backgrounds. If the writing touches the heart of the reader, it can be shared in experience universally no matter which culture it might represent. There are a lot of commonality among human life experiences and emotions. Cultural differences bring diversified settings and environment into the story and show various mentality of the main character, but the basic emotions are in common.

In our creative writing workshop we worked as a team. We read one another’s story and poems, and then we gave our comment to the writer. I could often learn a lot from my readers and realize how to revise my work. For example, as core group members, we were required to write about a picture called Nighthawks. It was interesting to discover that everyone saw the same picture in different ways. Although the main theme was the same about solitude or loneliness, the writers in different ages and from different cultural backgrounds did illustrate the picture in their own way. It was inspiring to read various poems written about the famous painting Nighthawks. The universal emotion of human being was very influential and powerful. Writing from observing a picture was also an effective way to learn to observe carefully and write something out of box. The picture was the stimulator and the restraint. We need to observe the characters in the picture and we also need to think imaginatively out of the picture. As creative writers, we should not be locked into the picture itself like the main characters in it, but we should jump out of the frame and write something unseen.

Talking about my presentation during the concurrent session, it had attracted a roomful of audience and most of them were students in the university. They were eager to listen to my talk and I could feel their enthusiasm from their eyes. I divided my talk into two parts. The first part was about what creative writing meant to me. I thought creative writing had made me love writing much more than before. It was a process of learning to write and also a process of self-discovery. Whenever I tried to create a character, my life experience and people who were familiar to me were jumping into my mind. I thought creative writing could not come from an empty space. The seeds of a story must lie somewhere in our daily life. Through reflection and observation, stories would take shape in some way or another. The second part was about activities which could be used in English writing classes of different levels. Even some very simple activity could lead learners to create unexpectedly beautiful poems through right guidance. For example,

‘When I think of …

I can see…

I can smell…

I can taste…’

One girl in my presentation room wrote about sunset in the form of the above simple pattern. It was so beautifully written that I could not help offering my praise to her in front of the audience. Her poem really inspired me to use the simple-form poem activity with more advanced students because their imagination and language expression were more interesting in a way. Although the form could be simple, the ideas and the feelings were thought-provoking without limitation. Once learners knew how to play with words within the restraints of the form, their thoughts and imagination could be as flexible as the flowing water which could be filled into any shape. I felt the most rewarding experience of doing creative writing was that the potential inner creativity of oneself could be stimulated in the process of word play. The sense of achievement was fulfilling for most English learners. To find your own voice and express your inner thoughts in a foreign language were very challenging as well as exciting. The happiness of composing a short poem or a short story was so strong that the painful producing process seemed bearable.

In a word, the Birgunj Creative Writing Workshop and Conference were very successful and unforgettable with the help of many organizers and participants. I believed that there would be more creative writers appearing in Birgunj who would love to share their stories and their poems with the rest of the world in both Nepalese language and the world language English. Let’s write and enjoy!

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