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Stimuli for creativity

Dual conferences at AUA provide professional Thai teachers of English with tools that improve articulation and stimulate creativity

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According to the Cone of Experience by Edgar Dale, persons can remember 10 percent of what they read, 20 percent of what they hear, 50 percent of what they hear and see, 70 percent of what they say, and 90 percent of what they say and do. 

Lynne Coetzer, second from right, shows Thai teachers of English participating at the Annual Thailand Tesol/AUA Seminar how to set up an interactive activity for students.

Last month, Thai teachers of English had ample opportunities to see, hear, say and practise creative methods of teaching English at the AUA (American University Alumni Association) Language Center. The centre hosted two significant events: the 42nd Annual AUA/MOE (Ministry of Education) Seminar for Thai Teachers of English and the Annual Thailand Tesol (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages)/AUA ELT (English Language Teaching) Seminar. Both events were organised under the theme of "Creativity in the Classroom".

Communicative method

The 42nd Annual AUA/MOE Seminar welcomed leading EFL (English as a Foreign Language) educator Kevin Keating, who is also a communicative method specialist and an instructor at University of California, Irvine.

Insofar as the communicative method is concerned, Mr Keating believes that teachers are facilitators of learning the language, not the main performers of the language. "If we think of a classroom as a theatrical stage, we want students to be the main actors in the classroom. We want students to be the ones who are speaking. So, teachers model for the students, but allow them to perform in the class, and that means talking to each other," he said.

Based on insight from nearly 40 years of English teaching experience in many countries, he sees that the main problem in teaching English is that most students are taught grammar and vocabulary, but that they cannot use the language they are studying to communicate in an effective manner.

The communicative method usually employs the tactic of dividing students into pairs or groups for the purpose of "minimising teacher talk time, and maximising student talk time", he explained. Teaching activities employing this method often integrate the four language skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing. The activities give students the opportunity to express their ideas on things that are related to, and important in, their life with one another and to encourage student interaction.

Teaching with songs

Mr Keating presented several activities at the conference. Many of the activities that are easy to prepare and simulate are activities based on songs. For example, teachers can easily come up with a simple activity called "Fill in, Listen and Repeat", in which students listen to a song and fill in the missing lyrics.

To prepare for the activity, the teacher prints out the lyrics of the selected song, and then erases some of the lyrics. He or she may leave the first letter of each of the missing words intact. Each line of the lyrics is numbered so that all the lines can be easily identified.

To start the activity, the students, after having been paired or grouped, are told to read each line in sequence and to guess the missing words. They are encouraged to talk to their partner to find the answers. Then the song is played in full and the students fill in the blanks.

This fill-in-the-lyrics activity can be made more challenging. For example, in the activity called "Group Lyrics", the teacher writes the lyrics of a song and divides the lines of lyrics into groups of, say, three each, and numbers the lines in each group 1, 2, 3. Some of the words in each line are either completely blanked out or have only their first letter intact.

To start the activity, the students in the class are divided into groups of three. The members of each group are assigned the numbers 1, 2 and 3, respectively. A student who has the same number as numbered lyrics must listen carefully to find the missing word(s) in that line. After that, the teammates in each group discuss their choices of words to evaluate their accuracy. Next, the students switch numbers and repeat the activity.

These two activities can be modified such that, instead of leaving some lyrics out, the teacher inserts extra words in the lines of lyrics and asks the students to cross out the extra words while listening to the song.

As a finale to each activity, the students sing the song used in the exercise.

Using existing materials

"Being creative doesn't mean you need to create new material. You can pick material from sources like the internet and newspapers. You can also use a simple material and teach it creatively," Mr Keating said.

One activity that Mr Keating employs to demonstrate this concept is called "Read, Turn Over, Retell". First, the teacher selects a passage, which could be from a textbook or other source.

Next, the students are divided into pairs and are told to read the first paragraph. After they have finished reading, each pair of students are required to retell the paragraph in their own words. This process is repeated to the end of the passage. Students in each pair read the passage. Then one student tells one sentence of the story and the partner continues with the next sentence.

The activity can be extended while still using the same passage. For example, the teacher might have one student in the pair look at the passage and pose questions to the partner, who has to answer correctly. Alternatively, one student may ask the partner to reply true or false to statements related to the story. They may switch roles after several questions have been asked.

In addition, after the passage has been read, the teacher might have the pair retell the story within a certain time limit, for example, one minute. Moving on, the students may change partners and retell the story yet again in, say, 45 seconds, 30 seconds and 15 seconds.

Freedom to fail

Damon Anderson, the regional English-language officer for the US Embassy in Bangkok, presented in his keynote address at the Annual Thailand Tesol/AUA ELT Seminar an activity that made use of simple resources in creative ways, entitled "Creativity: How do we inspire it?"

The members of the audience were paired up and each person was given a simple dialogue card. The dialogue read:

A: When can I see you again?

B: It's up to you. You are the boss.

A: How about the day after tomorrow?

B: Sure. What are your plans? (etc.)

At first, each pair was asked to implement the dialogue in a neutral manner. After a while, Mr Anderson asked the pairs to act out the same dialogue 10 times. He asked the participants to change their mannerisms each time they acted out the dialogue, for example, they had to read the dialogue as loudly as they could, as fast as they could and as slowly as they could; and then they had enact the dialogue in a way that showed A and B liked each other very much, and again as if A and B had just robbed a bank.

By letting students read out a dialogue in different ways, they experience the freedom of expressing different emotions, which stimulates their creativity, Mr Anderson explained.

He added that to stimulate creativity even further, teachers should give their students the freedom to question them (the teachers) on all topics, including the activity that they've just participated in, and give students the freedom to fail and make mistakes. "If you make a mistake, I can teach you," he said.

Storyteller

The Annual Thailand Tesol/AUA ELT Seminar also incorporated concurrent seminars, delivered by Thailand Tesol members and teacher trainers at AUA Language Center, which covered both theory and practice for ELT.

To cite an example, one of the seminars was entitled "Every Picture Tells a Story", which was delivered by Steven Tait, a School for International Training (SIT) Thailand lead trainer and secretary of Thailand Tesol, and his colleague, Isabela Vasiliu. The session demonstrated to the teachers attending the event how they could utilise pictures to conduct creative activities in their classroom. "We believe one of the best ways to stimulate students is to use visual support," Mr Tait said.

Mr Tait and Ms Vasiliu presented several activities to the audience. One of the activities was called "Writing/Drawing Chain Story". In this activity, the teacher divides the class into groups and each student is given paper on which students write one sentence, such as: "Yesterday, I swam in the river." Then, each student passes his or her paper to the student on the right.

The student then reads the sentence and draws a picture that refers to that sentence. Following this, the student folds the paper in such a manner that the sentence is not visible and passes it to the right.

During the next step of the activity, students are instructed to look at the picture only and not to refer to any previously written sentences. After looking at the picture, each student writes a sentence describing the picture, folds the piece of paper in such a way that the next student cannot see the picture and passes it to the person to the right.

Ms Vasiliu said that this particular activity stimulates a student's imagination and creativity. The activity also gives students who are not very strong in English but who might be good at drawing, the chance to feel that they are also capable members of the class, added Mr Tait.

Random pictures and telling fortunes

Next came the "Random Pictures" activity. The teacher must prepare before class a collection of five to seven pictures and make copies of them. The pictures should include people, locations and activities in progress.

Next divide the students into groups that equal the number of picture sets. Then give a picture set to each group. Each group member is given one picture from the picture set.

Then, have the students work together to create a story that ties all the pictures together. Finally, tell each group to present its story to the class.

The "Fortune Telling" activity is similar in that the teacher must prepare the pictures before class and divide the students into pairs, with one student acting as a fortune teller and the other student playing the role of the client. The client chooses a picture from the teacher without looking at it, and then gives it to the fortune teller.

The fortune teller begins by telling the client's future based on the picture. The client asks as many questions as possible about his or her future, and the fortune teller replies while simultaneously trying to be entertaining. After this, the partners switch roles.

Interactive classrooms

Lynne Coetzer, a teacher trainer at SIT Thailand, presented the workshop called "Mix and Match: Ways to Have Students Work Together". At the workshop, she showed the participants how to set students up for interaction through various models. Each model was demonstrated through an activity for the audience to participate in.

Two of the models were termed "Concentric Circle" and "Hands Off"'. Ms Coetzer demonstrated the Concentric Circle model through an activity called "Liar". To set up a concentric circle, the teacher divides the students into groups A and B. The students in Group A stand up and form a small circle, facing outwards. The members of Group B form a bigger circle, surrounding the students in Group A, and face the students in Group A. In this way, a student in Group A is paired with a student in Group B.

The activity starts with the students in Group B addressing a question to their respective partners, such as "How often do you exercise?" or "How often do you go shopping?" The Group A students can answer with the truth or a lie. The Group B students have to guess whether their partner is telling the truth or not. The roles are then reversed.

When the teacher gives a signal, the Group B students take one step to the right and repeat the activity with their new partners. In a classroom, the teacher can apply the concentric circle model to other activities. An activity can be as simple as expressing daily greetings.

Another sample set-up is called the "Hands Off" model. Ms Coetzer used the "Tactile Sensation" activity to demonstrate how this model works. First, all the students sit in a circle. Then, the teacher gives question cards to some students. The questions could be related to the five senses, such as, "What sound relaxes you?", "What smell scares you?", etc. Alternatively, the teacher may choose a different topic and let the students frame the questions.

Next, the students who have the cards (students A) walk to the students who do not have cards (students B, who remain seated) and read the questions written on the cards. After each pair has finished the conversations, students A give the question cards to students B, and sit. Students B walk to a different student who is sitting and ask the questions they have just been given.

The activities and techniques exemplified in this article are just a tip of the iceberg that was the wide range of content presented at the two conferences. Undoubtedly, these activities and techniques can be used and adapted by teachers everywhere for application to their own classrooms for the purpose of producing more-articulate, more-creative students.

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