Exploring Creative Response in ELT: A Vignette of an English Teacher

Bishnu Karki*

Context

English is taught and learnt as a foreign language in Nepal. I teach students from varying levels ranging from school to university. Teaching English at school and university is a tough and tedious job for every practitioner. It has been more challenging for all many of us. Normally, we believe that students in our context lack competency and proficiency in English language learning contexts. Motivating such learners to learn the English language is a very aspiring as well as a rigorous task for teachers like me. I often try to bring innovative ideas and activities to my classroom context. Unfortunately, my students do not pay proper attention to their studies and at some point, I feel as if they are studying English just to score passing grades. I realized that the students having ‘Nepali’ as the specialized subject focus only to score required grades or pass marks in comparison to students having ‘English’ as the specialized subject. . As an EFL teacher, I have to fully depend on prescribed course books’ task and activities to complete on time. This nature of the course has given no freedom for teachers to apply tasks and activities based on classroom explorations and context. The administration timely does an inquiry about the course progress whether the teacher has met the target of the course for terminal examination or not. Students also have developed their mindset to read any topic or lesson from an exam viewpoint. One of my students asked me during the teaching phase, “ sir, is this exercise important for the exam?” I replied yes to know the response of the student and how important he/she gives to that particular exercise. I found the students who asked me whether this exercise is important for exams or not prepared notes on that topic. From this classroom scenario, I realized to motivate my students to engage in the creative and critical tasks and activities beyond course books.

Fostering the creativity of learners plays a vital role in developing their analytical, critical, and problem-solving skills to enhance effective communication with peers and teachers naturally. In this regard, Tomlinson (2020) pointed out the significance of being creative for EFL teachers in-order to encourage their learners to be creative. Maley (2016) has  suggested the following principles for developing various forms of creativity:

Use heuristics at all levels- do the opposite, reverse the order, expand or (reduce ) something,

Use the constraints principle

Use the random principle

Use the association principle

Use the withholding-information principle

Use the divergent thinking principle

Use feeder fields

Regarding the notion of being creative teachers, we have to come out of the comfort zone to discover and explore newness for teaching creatively having a strong belief that creative teachers are not born and have to abandon the fear of being wrong.   The ongoing trends and shifts in teaching expect teachers’ willingness to be creative and demonstrate innovative concepts, beliefs, methods, and skills in teaching. How can a  teacher teaching with low resources and less professional opportunity familiarize him with creative and critical aspects of teaching?  To address the issue of the above question, I believe, there should be passion among teachers for self- continuous professional growth and learning. Teachers have to be motivated themselves and always devoted and committed to bringing significant changes in their classroom practices forming their own agency.

The rationale for my reflection

Rationalizing the status and ability of students in English, I happened to inquire how I could inspire my learners to be responsible for their own learning.  Many questions are stuck in my mind:- Are there any ways I could apply in my teaching to achieve transformative learning? Are there any explicit and creative activities that I could employ in my classroom context for better learning outcomes? Are there any specific ways I could apply to engaging students interactively and collaboratively?

These are some of the leading questions that made me reflect critically on transforming my teaching from content provider/ knowledge transmitter to knowledge explorer and reformer through dialogic interactions with interlocutors. In this write-up, I share my classroom practices on how creative response in ELT can foster students’ creativity, critical thinking, analyzing skills, and problem-solving skills, as well as develop communication skills to integrate various language aspects. The objective of this reflective writing is to rethink and critically reflect and analyze our classroom practices whether or not we are creating a favourable learning environment for our learners to develop their creativity. Moreover, this paper also encourages teachers teaching with less access to professional opportunities and fewer resources to be responsible for self-learning and grow professionally to connect with a wider ELT association of professional networking.

Vignette

I began my teaching career without job induction training and mentoring. I struggled for my survival in the teaching profession during my initial days. There was no staff development programme and professional development opportunity for teachers. Teachers were seniors/experienced based on their years of teaching rather than updated skills and knowledge. I realized proficiency and competency-based training, seminars, workshops, webinars, and short-term practical courses empower teachers to advance their teaching careers. I also became a member of ELT associations like NELTA and TESOL for my continuous professional development and networking with the wider community. The following anecdotes illustrated my professional development activities.

I attended a six-day intensive course on “Fundamentals of Teaching” organized by the British Council on March 25-30, 2018. It was my first experience participating in a 6 days long training for individual professional growth. The takeaways from the training helped me shape my teaching to keeping learners at the centre of the learning process by applying recent approaches to language teaching, group division techniques, designing tasks and activities for lesson planning, managing heterogeneous classes, fostering creative and critical aspects of learners, Think, pair share technique and ways of maximizing interaction and collaboration.

Based on the skills and knowledge from this training, I presented a workshop on Designing Activities for Teaching Reading at the National Conference of NELTA held at Solidarity International Academy, Hetauda, Nepal on March 2-3,2019. TESOL-NELTA Regional Conference and Symposium held at DAV Sushil Kedia Vishwa Bharati Higher Secondary School, Jawalakhel, Lalitpur on November 20-23 was another professional development opportunity to participate and interact with scholars from home and abroad for professional networking. At this conference, I presented a workshop on Using Short Stories for Enhancing Reading Comprehension of EFL Learners. I got an opportunity to participate in a Creative Writing Workshop facilitated by an ELT expert Alan Maley on November 24, 2019. That creative writing workshop engaged me in various ways of writing creative poems and also inspired me to apply the technique in my classrooms to foster creative writing for my students. It is my belief that the best part of learning is sharing in a wider community. I presented a workshop entitled Enhancing Creative Writing in the EFL classroom at the Third Annual ELT and Applied Linguistics Conference on February 21-22, 2020 organized by the Department of English Education, Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, Nepal.

Recently, I also successfully completed a nine months-long online course entitled “TESOL Certificate: Advance Practitioner (TCAP) getting a scholarship from Regional English  Language Office (RELO) US Embassy, Nepal. This course provided theoretical knowledge and practical skills needed for teaching the English language effectively and innovatively by applying modern approaches, methods, and skills.  I got an opportunity to participate TESOL convention and English language expo virtually in 2021 and 2022. Attending the TESOL convention virtually made me familiar with recent practices of teacher education, teacher research, innovative classroom practices, and more importantly ELT in the present world. Scholars across the globe shared their beliefs, knowledge, practical ideas based on their classroom exploration, and research findings to empower teachers like me to rethink English language teaching. I was the award recipient of ‘Rosa Aronson Professional Learning Scholarship’ of TESOL 2020.

My classroom practices

My classroom practices focus on the development of the creative and critical skills of the students. In order to enhance creativity and critical thinking, I create a conducive learning environment to foster engagement from the students. I use Icebreaker to initiate the discussions, sometimes during the while phase of teaching and at the end of the class. Using icebreakers in English language class incorporates different language skills. Icebreaker is one of the effective strategies for generating new ideas. I spend around 5-10 minutes on the icebreaker with a clear purpose. The selection of the icebreaker is based on the nature of the text. I use prompts, quotations, riddles, and questions for engaging students in productive learning.

Social media are also the best platform for learning new ideas and concepts for self-professional development through professional networking. I have added many ELT scholars from home and abroad as my Facebook friends. They post innovative concepts of ELT, call for proposals and abstracts for international conferences, seminars, and workshops, and share resources, practical teaching ideas, and links for joining webinars. I found the following activity in the Facebook post of Marjorie Rosenberg, past president of IATEFL. I found this activity engaging so I used it in my classroom.

 Activity 1: Icebreaker

I asked the students to complete the following information using the first letter of the last name.  They were a bit confused about how to be engaged in this activity. To make them understand how to explore information for completing it, I asked for the last name of any students in the class and wrote the last name on the board. For example, if the last name of the student was Gurung, he/she had to complete the given items using the first letter of their last name (G).

Wear……………..

Drink………………

Place……………….

Food………………..

Animal……………..

Girl’s name…………………..

Boy’s name…………………….

Profession…………………………

Describe someone………………………..

Something in your home…………………….

Body parts………………………………………

Your last names………………………………….

Students actively participated in this activity. I found that students were very curious to share their responses. After the sharing session, I ask the students to write the names of the animals (donkey, elephant), a place to visit (Dharan, Illam), Favourite food (momo, biryani), clothes (sweater, T-shirt) on a piece of paper. I provided them with the structure (If I were a (insert the word generated above), I would……) to write sentences based on the words they generated above. For example: If I were a donkey, I would carry your goods.

If I were a sweater, I would keep you warm from the cold.

Students constructed creative and surprising sentences and compared and evaluated their generated sentences with their peers. This activity energized them to create new sentences based on the structures.

Activity 2: Using Acrostic poems for introduction to new students

An acrostic poem is based on a word written vertically. I used acrostic poems to introduce newcomer students. This activity of writing poems encourages students to write poems about themselves. Acrostics poems can be used to write poems on objects, things, places, and so on. To make my students familiar with writing acrostics poems, I present some samples to make them clear on how to write them. During the sample presentation, I address the query raised by the students.

For Example: Dog

Docile

Obedient

Growling

After presenting the above example, I ask the students to write an acrostic poem based on their own name or about someone’s name they know well.

For example: Ganesh

G Goal-oriented

An Active achiever

N Nurturing naturally

E Excellent endeavour

S Sincere Sociable

H Honest humane

After students wrote poems about their names, I asked every student to share how they wrote them.

Activity 3: What Makes Me Happy?

I use this activity to promote positive thinking and also want to know the sources of my students’ happiness. I write “What Makes Me Happy?” on the board and asks the student to write their happiness based on the stem I wrote on the board. To make them clear, I write ‘Eating momo at a restaurant with my friends makes me happy.’ Based on this information, students explore their happiness and write creative and surprising sentences and chunks individually. I divide them into groups with five students in each. Now, students select one writer and the remaining students do the work of editing to shape their poems. Each group shares their final product of ‘What Makes Me Happy?’

 

Activity 4 : Bio poems

Bio poem enhances students’ creativity to write poems about a place, concept, event or individual they learnt through reading texts. Students write poems about the characters of the story or novel based on the sample. Students have read biography or autobiography of famous people, historically and naturally popular places or any events or concepts introduced in the text. In the form of poems, students organize and synthesize a large number of ideas creatively. The following template can be used to write a poem:

Line 1: First name

Line 2: Four traits that describe the character

Line 3: son/daughter relative of

Line 4: who feels/ verbs………….( 3 items)

Line 5: who needs/verbs……….( 3 items )

Line 6: who gives/verbs………..( 3 items)

Line 7: Who would like…………..

Line 8: Resident of………………….

Ending: Last name

Activity 5: Story Wheel

I attended a workshop on ‘Creative Response to ELT’ last year. In that workshop, the facilitator introduced the concept and practical ways of assessing the ‘story wheel’ in our classrooms. The story wheel required paper and pencil and can easily be used without overnight preparation and planning. Baker (2021) emphasizes that the story wheel can be used to expand learners’ retelling capacities, as well as to hone critical-thinking skills, and provide oral language practice. I use this activity in my class to retell the story students read or heard. Before I use this tool, I ask the students to read the story. I draw a circle on the board and divide the circle into segments. In the segment, I write the name of the story and its writer, the characters of the story, the setting, the plot, the picture that describe the best scene of the story, and key vocabulary. The segments in the story wheel depend on the nature of the story and the level of learners. I distribute pencils and A4 size paper to the students. I form a group with five students in each. They discuss in a group and make the story wheel based on my instructions. I offer my help to them if needed. The story wheel is easily transferable to a post-reading strategy with adaptations.

 Reading Activities

Enhancing the reading comprehension of my learners is another challenging part of teaching due to the complex nature of reading texts. Students develop their critical and interpretive skills through maximum exposure to readings texts. In our context, we have given very less amount of reading practice to our learners to improve their comprehension. Students seem bored and passive in reading lessons. This classroom scenario made me re-evaluate my teaching on how to design engaging, creative, and critical activities and tasks to assess reading interactively and collaboratively to motivate demotivated learners.  Reading texts enhances the interpretive abilities of the students. In my reading lesson, I begin my class by creating a learner-friendlier atmosphere motivating them to participate in the discussion to share their prior knowledge they have about the topic. I initiate the interaction and elicit information shared by the students by making a connection with their previous knowledge about the reading text.  I use the K-W-L chart (What I  know-K, What I want to know- W and What I learned-L) to engage students individually in organizing ideas of the text at pre, while, and post phases of the reading topic. Agreeing and disagreeing is another effective reading activity I prefer in my class to express the opinions of my students. For example, I write ‘ Arranged marriages are usually stronger than those based on love’ On the board. I ask the students: To what extent do you agree with the statement- strongly agree, agree, undecided, disagree, and strongly disagree. Students think individually and share their responses with their classmates.

Questioning the author helps students develop inquiry about the text to understand it. Students explore the meaning that the author wants to convey through the text. It also develops the students’ interactive, explorative and interpretive ability to construct meaning based on their reading of the text (Beck, McKeown, Sandora, & Worthy, 1996, 387).

Visualization, summarizing, predicting, making connections, and inferring are frequently used reading strategies in my classroom. While designing tasks and activities for reading texts, I follow the stages of reading illustrated by Lazar ( 2009) to achieve learning goals through interactive tasks and activities. I also use a plot diagram to map the events of the story. Students organize their ideas based on the elements of the plot diagram- exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.

Conclusion

Exploring the creativity of the learners in the EFL classroom is the cry of a day. To address the issue of creativity in the EFL classroom, I have applied learnt skills and knowledge to bring positive learning outcomes to my learners giving them maximum exposure through engaging tasks and activities. Creating a democratic classroom scenario will motivate the students to be responsible for their own learning believing they are an integral part of teaching which builds a good rapport between teachers and students.

References

Maley, A. (2016). Creativity: the what, the why and the how. ELT Council: Malta

Baker, A. ( 2021 ). Using story retelling wheels with young learners. English Teaching Forum, 59(3), 14-24.

Gabay, L. ( 2017). I raise my voice: Promoting self-Authoring through a curriculum-based project. English Teaching Forum, 55(4),14-21.

Beck, I.L., McKeown, M.G., Sandora, C., & Worthy, J. (1996). Questioning the author:

A yearlong classroom implementation to engage students with text. The Elementary

School Journal, 96, 385–414.

Lazar, G.( 2009). Literature and Language teaching. Cambridge University Press.

Tomlinson, B.(2015). Challenging teachers to use their coursebooks creatively. www.teachingenglish.org.uk

Author’s Bio: Bishnu Karki has an M.Ed. in English Education from Tribhuvan University. He is an Assistant Lecturer of English Education at Janta Multiple Campus, Itahari, Sunsari and Secondary level English teacher at Chandra Sanskrit Secondary School, Dharan. Mr Karki is joint secretary of the NELTA Sunsari branch and a global member of TESOL. His special interest lies in fostering creativity in ELT, teaching literature in the EFL classroom, and teacher education.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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