Inspired by Chrysa’s wonderful work and blog, and her use of those colorful post-its, by my own students love for music and the recent publication of Creativity in ELT, I came up with this activity last Monday.
I like using music as timer whenever possible with my teens because they like listening to music and doing other things. In this activity, I used music as timer, post-its and teens’ creativity to write a story (6 sentences long) which had to be as crazy as possible.
Languague level: This activity can be used with learners who can already write simple sentences and have a good basic vocabulary as it is the case of my group of 8 teens around the age of 13 and 14. I made it doable by not focusing on a particular language point, so learners could use what they know. I wanted to break from the controlled activities that teens usually find so boring.
Step-by-step: First Round
- Number the post-its. Four learners in each group, I gave 6 post-its to each learner in the group. So, each group was going to produce 4 stories and work all at the same time. I wrote the step-by-step and rules on the board so they could look at them over and over to review the steps. I used different colors to make it easier to keep track of the story and not to confuse the post-its. Numbering the post-its is important so they can follow the sequence of the sequence too.
- Play the song for 30-60 seconds. While the song is playing they write a sentence introducing the story in post-it 1.
- Stop the song. They pass to the learner next to them the 6 post-its that had been numbered all at once.
- They read what their classmate wrote in post-it 1 and as soon as the song starts again, they write the next sentence in post-it 2 to continue the story. And they do step 2, 3 and 4 again and again until all the post-its have a sentence.
**Once they write the sentence, the song stops and they pass the post-its along, they will naturally ask each other questions about what their classmates had written and read all the sentences again to make sense of what had been written before. And they will also want to find out where the story is going to decide what to write next. They’ll need at least one more minute in between the writing while the song plays to be able to discuss any issue they have to understand the previous sentence. Handwriting might be a problem because they are hurrying to finish before the song stops. Or the sentence just doesn’t make sense and they need to clarify what the other person want to say. The most important thing we agreed was to write a new sentence only when the song was playing. If the song wasn’t playing, it was discussion and reading time. If they didn’t know how to write a word or two, they could write it in L1. In the following discussion time, they would help each other find the appropriate word in English. Timing is flexible. It doesn’t have to be 60 seconds. It can be anything between 60 to 90 seconds. Not before nor after. Too much time leaves space for them to get sidetracked, and too little no enough to get ready for the second round.
They will write actually not just 6 sentences, but 24 sentences! And it doesn’t take a bit more than an hour from writing to discovering what the best stories were. Plus, they have a chance to collaborate with each other by teaching each other vocabulary, discussing what they had read and reading with the purpose of understanding the message.
We went through the activity one more time. They felt more confident in the second round, but one of the groups said they felt more creative in the first round.
After the second round, each student got two sets of post-its and had to write an improved version of the story. Improved doesn’t actually mean adding new sentences (but this might work well too), but rewrinting the sentences in a way to produce a better text. While they were writing in a larger post-it the text, they were asking questions about the language, checking vocabulary and looking up words in a dictionary.
Then, I collected all the post-its and asked each group of 4 to listen and rate each story from 1 to 5. I made the corrections while I was reading aloud without pointing out who or what was wrong with the text unless I needed some help to understand the message myself. I tried to read like there were no errors in the text whatsoever.
By reformulating what they had written, they didn’t only got corrected versions of what they had produced in group but also a new chance to encounter the new words again. After listening to all the stories from the other group and rating, they sat together to get the average rate for each story and find out how many points each story got and the average points and the best story from each group.
Learners’ opinions about the activity: In one group, three of them rated 4 because one of the learner in the group was writing the whole sentence in Portuguese or passing the paper along blank. The learner mentioned in the other learners feedback also rated it 4 but didn’t say why. The other group rated it 5. Apart from saying that they loved it, one of the learners also said it’s good to stimulate their creativity and practice English.
Why was it fun?
They were FREE to write what came to their minds.
It’s CHALLENGING but DOABLE.
It’s NOT about GRAMMAR but expressing oneself CREATIVELY.
Playing a song creates this RELAXING ATMOSPHERE.
A pity it’s the end of the semester and I can’t expand this activity. I’ll try with other groups next semester and use the reformulated text as input or prompts. Or maybe by asking learners to add a drawing, picture or creating a longer story?
Talking about creativity, I’ll take the opportunity to give a shout out to the seminar that took place last week. You can watch the recording in Youtube.