Thank you for visiting. This blog is here to provide a place where we can share ideas on teaching EAP via Creative Approach to Language Teaching (CALT). CALT has been inspired by ideas of Ken Robinson, Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, Edward de Bono and many others who find creativity a natural part of our intelligence and necessary component of learning. It focuses on divergent thinking and combines constructivist, ICT-enhanced and task-based learning methods with a community-of-practice style of communication. Its basic aim is to make language learning in higher education as natural as possible.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Introduction to writing

This is a 30 minute activity that introduces some basic characteristics of writing we may not usually focus on.

Step 1 

Students are given separate sheets of paper and the following instruction:

Write one sentence that expresses your opinion on the statement “Writing is important”.

1.1. Theoretically, it could be any statement, but, if we want students to think about writing, it is preferable to focus the topic on writing, too.

1.2. Students can be informed that they can agree or disagree with the statement, they can explain it, paraphrase, develop, bring examples… simply any reaction is correct.

1.3. There is no time limit for writing that sentence. But this is not stated. Simply, no time limit is set and if anybody asks, the answer should be: “No, there is no limit.”

1.4. It is essential that students are instructed to write one sentence only, long or short, but one. The reason is that when we discuss writing later in the step 4, students should also realize that one sentence expresses one idea.

Step 2

Students are asked to pass the paper to their colleague sitting on their left. They should read the sentence their colleagues have written and write their own reaction to that. They can agree, disagree, develop the idea or come up with a new one - simply, anything is possible again – it only has to be a clear reaction to the first sentence, and it must be only one sentence again.

When all students finish, they are asked to pass the papers to their colleagues sitting to their left again and do the same – read the sentences of their colleagues and react to them in one sentence. This can be repeated as many times as we like, but the more text, the longer each change takes and the activity can become difficult to handle. In my experience, if each student writes their own original sentence and four reactions, it is usually enough for them to get some immediate practical experience with writing to talk about.

Then, students are asked to send the papers back to the authors of the original statements. They can read the collaborative texts they have produced.

2.1. It takes different amount of time for each student to read and write their sentences. We should not push the slower students to hurry up, as it is one of the goals of the task to realize that writing is individual.

2.2. There can occur different reactions of students during this task. We should not stop any of them, as students are going to reflect on what is going on later in the next step. 

Step 3

Students are asked to recall what was going on while they were engaged in the task and they should write as many characteristics of that activity (writing) as possible. They can produce adjectives or descriptions. They should reflect on what was going on, what it involved, and/or also what they observed.

Step 4

Students are asked to discuss their ideas with the rest of the class. The teacher writes all points on the board and draws attention to the ideas which are essential for writing practice.

The characteristics and ideas often mentioned are:


1)      Writing is an individual activity. 
       (Each of them writes individually, on their own.)

2)      Writing is a form of communication. 
     (In the first sentence, the students could have thought nobody was going to read their sentence, but starting with the second one, they knew they were writing for their peers; somebody was going to read it. That could influence the content or form of their writing. Students could start modifying their opinions according to the audience and the other authors.)

3)      Writing takes time –different time for each person. 
      (They could observe that some people had ideas coming fast and they could express them in a short time, while others took their time, they were polishing their sentences, rewriting or changing them. Some could not think or write at all. Why those differences occur can be discussed with the class - it usually is a very interesting discussion and makes students think about the process of writing even more.)

4)    The same idea can be expressed in many different ways. 
     (Students could often read a very similar opinion to their own expressed in a slightly or very different way. They should be aware of differences in form.)

5)    Writing includes reading. 
    (Starting with the second sentence, all of them had to read in order to write their comments. This is related to the point 2, a form of communication; our writing usually reacts to writings of others.)

6)   In writing, we tend to formulate our views and ideas more carefully and precisely.  
      (When students are writing, almost all experience the moments when they search for the right or “best” way to express their ideas or change a sentence after they see what they have written.)

7)      Each sentence is an expression of one idea. 
      (Here, we can explain why we insisted on one sentence only each time.)


 8)   Writing can be improved by writing. 
     (Each skill needs exercise. This task can set some style of work - when we deal with writing we are going to write a lot.)

I use this activity usually at the beginning of a course focused on writing, or at the beginning of series of activities focused on writing. Sometimes, 30 minutes is enough, in many cases, however (especially in groups with rather diverse needs, skills or experience of the group members), it is worth having a longer discussion on what writing includes.   

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Academic Writing Style with My Fair Lady


To explain academic writing style characteristics can sometimes be complicated. Students may not understand its complexity and variability within its seeming uniformity.  This activity uses the “Ascot Opening Race” song (My Fair Lady) and helps students look at the academic writing style from a different perspective.

The task is divided into four steps:

First, we ask students to watch the video. While watching, they should write down any adjectives (or as many adjectives as possible) that characterise the scene, the setting, the people, their behaviour, clothes, simply anything they notice or find worth commenting.

Second, students share their adjectives with the class. The teacher can write them on the board. Students usually produce a great number of adjectives that can carry not only neutral or positive but also negative connotations. 
We can often hear words such as: slow, boring, old-fashioned, posh, organised, unified, uniform, static, careful, orchestrated, synchronised, strict, detailed, rigid, orderly, pretending, imitating, driven by conventions, mundane, unvaried, old, exclusive, elegant, arranged, coordinated, … .

Third, students are asked to look at the adjectives they have generated and identify those which could also characterise academic writing style.

Finally, we compare how style can be perceived by members of a community (insiders – academic style writers, in our case) and by outsiders of a community (the video). The discussion often shows a radical shift from neutral or negative connotations (as an outsider) to more positive or understanding connotations when seen from the perspective of an insider.
 This discussion can help students realise they need to communicate their work differently to different audiences.

Examples of shifts (or explanations):

slow – the pace of academic research and academic writing is slow in a positive sense, it takes time to achieve results, and rush or hasty conclusions do not help.
boring – an academic article in your field can be exciting for you if it brings information you are interested in, on some unexpected results for example, however, for a person from a completely different field it can be considered boring since the lack of knowledge prevents them from the joy of that particular discovery.
old-fashioned – the rules we follow now, were created many centuries ago, and have been changing over the years by some evolution, not revolution. To change anything in academic writing style takes time 
posh – in many cultures education is a type of privilege and sometimes scientists and academics look down at the “unknowledgeable” part of the world (here, the connotation stays negative, but it can help to students communicate better their results to a non-expert audience)
organised – everything runs smoothly when everybody knows what to do (academic readers are happy when they find methods in the section of methodology and results in the section of results, for example)
unified / uniform – in the video, the people seem to be very similar, however, if there is something exactly the same, it is not appreciated (two ladies in the same hat), which resembles academic writing – we all divide articles into the same or similar sections but the ideas must be new and different, if something is the same, it is not appreciated
detailed – similar to the above, each detail of dresses, hats and accessories matter, similarly to details in our texts…

…static, careful, showing off, self-assure, reserved, flawless, out of real life, stylish, choreographed, orchestrated, strict, rigid, orderly, pretending, imitating, driven by conventions, mundane, unvaried, old, exclusive, elegant, arranged, coordinated, … .

Note: Many of the adjectives students say are synonyms and can be grouped, others are irrelevant to the comparison and can be ignored – as the aim is not to prove that the My Fair Lady song has the same characteristics as academic writing style but to show that looking at any style from an insider´s and outsider´s perspectives differs.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Creative Theories

I am planning to post some ideas on creative theories that I work with in my sessions but before I do so, I share a video of a talk I gave in January where the most important theories are mentioned and commented on. Here it is: Blind men and an elephant: What is creativity for

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Ban on "I don´t know" expressions

At the beginning of a course, I always find useful to explain to students that a creative teaching approach establishes a general framework. We can work in a relatively free and flexible way within that framework, but there are certain rules that should be respected so that the framework can support learning.
One of the rules is a ban on the "I don´t know" expression and its most basic equivalents. This ban can be either presented directly with an explanation that they have enrolled in the course in order to learn new things and not to practise a phrase well-known to everybody.
Or it can be introduced in a slightly more entertaining way. We can show students some of Catherine Tate´s "how much/how many"" sketches, such as:


Students are asked to note different ways of saying "I don´t know". Then, we ask them to work in pairs. One student prepares a question "Have a guess ..." and the other tries and resists having a guess as long as possible by saying equivalents of "I don´t know". When, the student has no more equivalents of  "I don´t know", they have to have a guess. Then, the pair swops roles.
Finally, the class puts together as many equivalents of "I don´t know" as possible. We discuss differences in their use (e.g. levels of formality) and explain that the most basic or well-known ones are banned from the course.

Note: It is never respected at the first or second sessions, however, once the teacher keeps reminding students, it is usually the fourth week when it usually starts working.
Of course, the ban is not an absolute one but it prevents students from an easy escape from answering questions at least.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Getting-To-Know-Each-Other Activity: A Wallet

This activity has been inspired by one of Robert Fulghum´s short stories from his book Maybe (Maybe Not). The story starts as follows:

 and finishes with:

This activity follows the story.

First, we explain to students that the session will start with a short story which will be read to them. It is no need to read the whole story - only essential paragraphs (or if the language level of the groups is lower, we can paraphrase the story using simpler vocabulary and sentence structure). The reading should not be longer than 3-4 minutes.
After the story has been read, we suggest we do the same: We ask students to “take out their wallets (and purses and any equivalents of the money + other essentials holders) and place them on the table”.
Then, we ask students to take everything out, spread it on the desk in front of them and go through the items in a few minutes.
Finally, we ask students to say a few words (two sentences) about themselves based on what they have found – one idea related to something they would call “typical for them” and one idea based on something that has surprised them (something they did not expect to find, if there is such a thing).

This activity can be really great, however, there are five basic issues we, teachers, should be aware of:

1) There is always someone who does not have a wallet (either with them or simply does not use any) – in that case, we can ask them to take their diary or mobile and look at the entries or text messages, photos, phone numbers or anything else and base their introduction on that.
2) This activity takes usually longer than what is expected because (and I am always surprised it really works the same way as in the story) students are more than willing to talk. They usually want to comment on different things they have found or realised.
3) Students can react emotionally, such as go through the papers they have in their wallet and throw them all into the dustbin or bursting out in laughter because they simply recalled something really funny.
4) Students can sometimes get unexpectedly open, e.g. a male student commented once on a condom in his wallet saying: “This probably suggests, I am always ready.”, or a female student commented on her contraceptive pills saying: “This means, I do not want to have kids, just yet, I guess.” This means that we should try and make sure we can provide a safe and freindly environment where students can say whatever they want if they want to.
There can also be students of the opposite position – who do not want to share anything (it happens rearly), and there is no need to force them to share their privacy. Such a student can introduce themselves in a traditional manner.
5) Students can find objects of all types (from paper clips and coin jettons to scales or amulets) in their wallets and ask for “what this is called in English”, so, we have to be ready for that as well.

The great advantage of this activity is that students often remember a lot about their peers and that is why we can sometimes refer back to certain personal items or stories during the course, which can make the atmosphere in the group more personal.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Linking words

This is a combination of interconnected tasks that engages students in a complex situation. It allows them to build new vocabulary, use their existing knowledge and language competencies, and practise newly learnt words in different contexts.

The first stage consists of five parts:
1) Individual students write as many linking words they can recall as possible.
2) Students work in groups and categorise all the words they have produced into groups according to their function or meaning.
3) The whole class shares and discusses original categories with examples of linking words produced by the groups.
4) Students are provided with a material of generally accepted categories of linking words with lists of their examples, such as:

5) Both student-generated and teacher-provided tables are compared and discussed. Usually, both overlap to a certain extent, so it is useful to emphasise the student-generated contribution.

The second stage also consists of five parts:
1) Students are presented with a topic relevant to their field(s) of study or interest.
 (A slightly controversial topic usually helps to make some opinions more quickly.)
2) Each student forms an opinion on that issue and writes that opinion in one sentence on a sheet of paper.
3) Students send the papers with their opinions to the person sitting on their left or right (if we are in a computer lab or if we want students to move a little, it can be students who change places moving from paper to paper or from computer to computer). Each student reads their colleague´s statement and writes some reaction that starts with a linking word. Then, they send the texts in the same direction as before and perform the same task. This procedure is repeated several times. The only requirements are:
(a) each new sentence has to begin with a linking word;
(b) no linking word can be repeated in one text.
Note: The task is getting slower and slower with each change because students need more time to read the whole text written by their peers. Four to five changes are usually enough for the purpose of the task.
4) All texts return to the authors of the original statements for analysis. The original authors underline all linking words (all sentences with the exception of the first one should start with a linking word) in the texts and identify a flow of argumentation. In other words, they should be able to say which sentence supports their original statement, which refutes it and which develops the argumentation in a different way. (The categories from the stage number one coul help.)
5) Students write a synonym for each underlined linking word in their texts that is suitable in the given context.

In this way, students meet linking words in different situations:
1) retrieve from their memory what they already know individually;
2) categorise linking words – it may be useful especially with students with no formal linguistic terminology background, they usually give "original labels” to the categories;
3) the discussion and comparison with the “generally accepted” categories and examples are important because they make students think about the idea that those words not only exist but they have also some function;
4) students can be engaged in an active use of the newly learnt words in different contexts;
5) and they can also think about the use of synonyms in the given contexts.

At the end, it can be useful to stress the importance of linking words for a smooth flow of argumentation and ideas in academic texts. On the other hand, it is important to emphasise that not every sentence in a real text starts with a linking word - that linking words should not be overused.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

De-personalisation of academic language

The aim of this activity is to let students find out why it can be useful to de-personalise academic texts. It can show the importance of being aware of different perspectives we can adopt and consequent changes in work with language. It can be based on any type of film that is related to students´ fields of studies, ideally, a film, topic or situation most of them are not familiar with.

First, we show students a short part of a film. The instruction is just to watch the sequence, no title, names, characters or context are mentioned or explained before students watch that.
                                                                                                         (Hotel Rwanda, 2004)
Second, students are asked to write down a few sentences describing what they have seen. Then, they discuss their versions: first in pairs and then together with the rest of the class. All ideas, perspectives, points of view and types of expression are appreciated.

Third, students are given a text that offers a brief context to the situation. They are given time to read the text. It can also be useful to discuss some language issues or the meaning of the text. Some important information may be added to make sure everybody understands the context. For example:
Rwanda Genocide
Rwanda’s population of seven million was composed of three ethnic groups: Hutu (approximately 85%), Tutsi (14%) and Twa (1%). In the early 1990s, Hutu extremists within Rwanda’s political elite blamed the entire Tutsi minority population for the country’s increasing social, economic, and political pressures. The Hutu remembered past years of oppressive Tutsi rule, and many of them not only resented but also feared the minority.
On April 6, 1994, a plane carrying President Habyarimana, a Hutu, was shot down. Violence began almost immediately after that. Under the cover of war, Hutu extremists launched their plans to destroy the entire Tutsi civilian population. Political leaders who might have been able to take charge of the situation and other high profile opponents of the Hutu extremist plans were killed immediately. Tutsi and people suspected of being Tutsi were killed in their homes and as they tried to flee at roadblocks set up across the country during the genocide. Entire families were killed at a time. Women were systematically and brutally raped. It is estimated that some 200,000 people participated in the perpetration of the Rwandan genocide.
In the weeks after April 6, 1994, 800,000 men, women, and children perished in the Rwandan genocide, perhaps as many as three quarters of the Tutsi population. At the same time, thousands of Hutu were murdered because they opposed the killing campaign and the forces directing it.
Policymakers in France, Belgium, and the United States and at the United Nations were aware of the preparations for massive slaughter and failed to take the steps needed to prevent it. Aware from the start that Tutsi were being targeted for elimination, the leading foreign actors refused to acknowledge the genocide. Not only did international leaders reject what was going on, but they also declined for weeks to use their political and moral authority to challenge the legitimacy of the genocidal government. They refused to declare that a government guilty of exterminating its citizens would never receive international assistance. They did nothing to silence the radio that televised calls for slaughter. Even after it had become indisputable that what was going on in Rwanda was a genocide, American officials had shunned the g-word, fearing that it would cause demands for intervention.
                                                              (Adapted from:

Forth, students are asked to contextualise their first texts. In other words, they should re-write their original pieces of writing using the information from the Rwanda Genocide text.

Then, types of changes are discussed. Students should exchange their ideas in pairs or groups and then share their ideas together in class. We focus on the differences between their text number one, based only on watching a segment of a film, and the text number two, based on watching a segment of a film with a context of the situation.
Students come up with a lot of different ideas but there are always some changes relevant to academic context that we can highlight, such as:

- improvement of accuracy: people → Hutus, Tutsies; in Africa → in Kigali, Rwanda;
- improvement of sentence or paragraph structure: forming full sentences or introducing a topic sentence at the beginning of their short text
- improvement of style: some say they try to be more formal (even automatically)
- higher responsibility: feeling "a higher level of fear” of making mistakes
- attempt to create a “more objective” description of the situation

This discussion can but does not have to have a concluding character. We can engage students in one more activity to offer them a more complex view on reasons for de-personalisation in the academic context.

In this part, students are given roles. In this case, they can include:

It is 12th April 1994, Kigali, Rwanda.
You are a European tourist at a hotel. There is a brutal civil war going on in this country and you are being evacuated.

It is 12th April 1994, Kigali, Rwanda.
You are a United Nations peacekeeping forces general. Your order is to evacuate citizens of foreign countries from Rwanda. You know you are safe because Rwandan Hutu militias kill only Tutsies or Hutus who help Tutsies. You know the hotel is full of Tutsies and other refugees. If you and your soldiers leave, the hotel residents are very likely to be killed soon.

It is 12th April 1994, Kigali, Rwanda.
You are a United Nations peacekeeper. Your order is to evacuate citizens of foreign countries from Rwanda. You know you are safe because Rwandan Hutu militias kill only Tutsies or Hutus who help Tutsies. You know the hotel is full of Tutsies and other refugees. When you leave, the hotel residents are very likely to be killed soon.

It is 12th April 1994, Kigali, Rwanda.
You are a humanitarian organisation worker. You have brought a lot of Rwandans to the hotel to be evacuated. Being a foreigner, you can be evacuated but the children and other Rwandans you have been trying to save are forced to stay. The United Nation peacekeepers will not help Rwandans; moreover, they prevent you from helping them more. You know the hotel is full of Rwandan refugees who are very likely to be killed soon.

It is 12th April 1994, Kigali, Rwanda.
You are a Hutu Manager of the hotel. You have to manage the process of evacuation of all foreigners from the hotel. No United Nations peacekeeper will help you to save the locals. You know the hotel is full of Rwandan refugees and you all are likely to be killed by Hutu militias.

It is 12th April 1994, Kigali, Rwanda.
You are a Tutsi employee of the hotel. You would like to be evacuated with all the foreigners but the United Nations peacekeepers stop you. You know if you stay in the country you all are likely to be killed by Hutu militias.

there can be many other characters…

When we make sure students understand which “role” they take on, they are instructed to watch the film segment again. They should watch it from the perspective of their role. In other words, they should see the situation from a specific point of view (of an insider of the situation). After watching this, students are asked to write a new description of the situation.
Then, we proceed in a similar way as in the step with contextualisation. We ask them to identify differences and changes made between their texts number three and texts number two.

Again, a great variety of different ideas appear, but usually, many students share three issues that can be emphasised: students

1) get “deeper inside” the situation;
2) focus on their own perspective only;
3) focus on details (not he wider picture) relevant only to the particular perspective and ignore the rest.

In this way, students have been guided to a deeper understanding of why de-personalisation can be useful: They may experience the difference of a personal involvement and more de-personalised perspective. When they are personally involved, they may go deeper into the situation but, at the same time, they can take only one perspective and focus on some details while ignoring other issues. On the other hand, when they are given some context or adopt a wider picture, they may introduce more accuracy, precision and responsibility in their writing.