When we combine these two approaches, we get interesting activities that can help both, a second language and creative skills development. Here are some ideas with comments:
TASK TYPE: In two minutes, write as many words that start with L and end with D as possible.
TASK TYPE: Write as many different sentences where given words start with the letters “I,S,A,W,R” as possible. I…… S……… A……… W………… R……… .
TASK TYPE: Write as many synonyms/antonyms to a word as possible.
TASK TYPE: Name all things that fly.
1) First, students are asked to write as many words or sentences as possible.
2) Second, the teacher asks about the highest number and examples are read aloud.
3) Third, a follow-up discussion based on what students have produced (the topic depends on the aim of this activity, such as, vocabulary building; focus on specific register; classification background; creative barriers identification; …).
In this context, it is important to note that a choice of the letters (if the first letter or first/last letter systems are used) is essential and can influence a success of the activity to a great extent.
1) Students generate vocabulary or sentence structures they already know – this can help the teacher to see a realistic size/range of their vocabulary or range of sentence structures they can produce.
2) Students share vocabulary or sentence structures and enrich one another without teacher´s involvement.
3) Students usually enjoy this activity and find it a little bit competitive. (It can, of course, be done individually, in pairs or groups.)
4) The activity is repeatable and easily adaptable.
5) The activity is short and usable at any moment during sessions when we need to generate some words or sentences for later activities.
Example 1: Before we introduce an academic style or register topic, we can ask students to write down as many words they would never use in academic writing as possible (or as many words they would use in every single academic text they write as possible.). Then, we discuss their results, dividing particular expressions into groups or types. In this way, students can find some principles on their own without being told.
Example 2: Before we introduce the topic of classification, we can ask students to write as many things that fly as possible. Then, students are divided into groups, where they should create some criteria and classify the “flying things” according to those criteria. Then, the whole idea of classification can be easier to grasp.
6) The activity can relatively clearly show what barriers to creativity students have.
Example: When we use the “Write as many different sentences where given words start with the letters “I,S,A,W,R” as possible .I…….. S……… A……… W………… R……… .” task, most students produce three to five sentences. There are some who do not come up with any and others who come up with as many as twenty-two. (The winner usually uses the strategy of changing only one word in the sentence, e.g. I saw a wild rat, rabbit, Ralph, Richard… .) In the follow-up discussion, we often hear reasons for not producing more sentences like this: “ …it is not academic“; “ ….it is just a game“ ; “ …it is not creative, I wanted to have every sentence completely different“ ; “ …I was not sure about spelling of some words“ ; “ …it is not good to use informal words in academic English“ ; “ …my grammar is very bad“ ; … . We, as teachers, can also ask additional questions, such as “Why is it all in English, it was not in the instruction, was it?, to make the point that it was not the instruction that made the task complicated but their own inner barriers they built for themselves in their heads which prevented them from getting better results. It is good, to make this activity with this point at the beginning of a course, because later, when we deal with more complex tasks, we can always remind students of this – asking them whether they believe a particular task is difficult to solve objectively or if it is difficult because they make it difficult in their own head.
1) Teachers have to be flexible and ready to be surprised and challenged.
2) Some students, especially in postdoctoral programmes tend to find this activity too “non-academic” and sometimes refuse to do it as they see no point. So, it is important to carefully choose times and types (e.g. when we deal with reporting words in academic texts, a task “Write as many synonyms to the word say you use in your texts” is generally accepted as it fits perfectly into the context of the topic.)