Sunday, 5 June 2011

It was supposed to be the holiday of a lifetime..............

I have to admit that although I love telling stories in class to young learners, I'm very reluctant to ask adult students to do creative story writing activities. Last week I tried a story writing activity in class with a group of mixed level (Al-C1) adult students (who are all teachers). Motivated by the #ELTchat on storytelling I gave it a go. I vaguely remember using different pieces of music to create a man meets woman story many moons ago when I first started teaching.

I guess I've been reluctant to do this kind of activity in class because I think it's an activity that has the potential to "bomb" really easily. In general, in my experience, adult students and teens are reluctant to write in class and maybe even less willing to write stories.This is because writing is somehow seen as boring or not valuable in class time and creative writing is not something everyone enjoys. I'm not sure why, but it's a definite feeling that I get. 

The groan is often audible when you say the magic words "Today we're going to do a writing activity". Perhaps for that reason I didn't utter them on Tuesday. It was a two hour class, and the last 35-40 minutes we did the writing activity. I used a combination of two ideas that were suggested in the #ELTchat on Storytelling .

First, I wrote the first and last lines of the story on the whiteboard. They were:

It was supposed to be the holiday of a lifetime.
If I had known what was going to happen, I would have stayed at home

I thought this would act as a very bare skeleton to guide their written work.

The next step was to show them the suitcase with random objects that I had run around the house collecting the night before class. I included:
  •  a pair of binoculars
  • a knife
  • a couple of syringes
  • a travel brochure for Asia
  • a guidebook for Costa Rica
  • a tin of tuna
  • an earring
  • a lipstick
  • a self help book
  • my passport
  • a pack of Nicotine patches
  • a plastic toy shark
  • a purse
  • a key
 The aim of giving them props was to try and help stimulate story lines for their writing and give them more support to create imaginative texts.

Here are their stories published with their permission:

Group 1

It was supposed to be a holiday of a lifetime. I did a cruise and during the cruise I fell off the ship while I was watching the dolphin with my binoculars.When I woke up I was in hospital, I didn't remember anything! The police told me that they found me inconscious at the beach. One man in the beach saw how the doplphin carried me to the beach. But I realized that I didn't have all my documents and passport. I didn't know who I was. So, I had to spend more time, 20 days until my husband found me. then we cameback to fuerteventura and I found my memory slowly, I suffered from depression and my husband gave me a book called "How to mend your broken heart". It was very useful for me. Nowadays, I feel happy but I couldn't travel anymore.

Group 2

It was supposed to be the holiday of a lifetime in the jungle in Costa Rica. She was walking hrough the jungle when she found a dolphin.  She realized the dophin was hungry, so she fed him with the tin of tuna. She had to make an important decision because she was also hungry but finally she decided to save the dolphin. Now, she was lost and alone on the jungle, she started to cry because she felt that she was going to die. Then, the dolphin showed her the way to get out of the jungle. Once she felt saved she came up with a small village. When she started to walk she saw the siluette of a handsome man running towards her, immediately their eyes met. She thought she was saved but she couldn't imagine that the man wanted to eat her. She then thought: if I'd know what was going to happen I would have stayed at home.

It was a group writing activity. I felt that there were definitely times when the students were not engaged in the activity. I think some students found it difficult to write a story in a group and would have been much happier wrtiting alone or at home. This is just the feeling that I got. Maybe the props I gave them were not quite right or perhaps it was the weather and the mix of students that turned up to class. Perhaps I didn't set it up right but there was definitely something missing. It worked with one group and not with the other. I'm glad I tried it but not sure if I'll be doing one again soon...........


    1. Hi Leahn,
      I've had similar experiences to this (generally because I didn't do enough preparation before the writing stage), but I definitely think it's worth it to keep trying as I've had some students who really enjoy it. I liked reading the stories your students wrote.
      What did you do during the rest of the lesson? I wonder if the students thought it was writing for the sake of it- this is something I feel in my classes at times.
      Here are some ideas for next time:
      -some teachers use guided visualisation before the students get to writing the story - they could close their eyes and imagine what is happening and how they felt at various points during the story.
      -they could do it as a speaking activity first, then write it down
      -you could tell them the week before that you're going to do a lesson about holidays, with each student bringing one item to take with them which they then use in the story
      -give them a more obvious reason to write by publishing their stories and showing them the comments they receive

      Hope that helps!

    2. I've seen this activity work well in a workshop of adult learners - all teachers, though not necessarily teachers of English. There was a class warm-up exercise first - a shake-about to pop music. There was also newspaper hat-making and singing (the silly hat store) and then there were the creative English activities. We had perhaps six groups of five teachers, each with a different activity. In the story writing there was at least one major difference - far fewer props - maybe six at most. That actually gave great scope for creativity. There was a lot of laughter and an element of competition between the groups.

      Two hours is a long class without a break. Perhaps your class just needed a change, a bit of physical activity and silliness, to get the creative juices flowing. And actually, I don't really think those passages are so bad, especially if this is the first time you've done this exercise. At least they wrote something, and that's a start!

    3. Hi Sandy and Clive,

      Thanks for taking the time to make your comments and offer suggestions and advice. I'm sure that the activity itself wasn't to blame for the flop but rather my delivery of it. You live and learn! Thank heavens been teaching so long that I don't take it personally anymore! Well, I'm not in floods of tears at least (joke). I will give it a go again and see what I can do to improve my delivery.



    4. Hi there!

      Great activity, great ideas!

      I remember doing something similar a few years ago. I showed my students a photo of a girl that had been found dead. Their task was to recreate her last day using the objects I brought. As we were studying prepositional phrases around that time, I also gave them a few of these on pieces of paper to include in the stories. And it was fun!