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Creativity in the language classroom
- What is creativity?
- Why is creativity important?
- Am I ever creative?
- Are my students creative in my lessons?
What is creativity?
Do you think you are creative? Do you think your students are creative? All of them? Some of them? Alas, only very few of them? Do you think you can call yourself lucky if you have one or two creative students in a lifetime? Do you think the younger the students are the more creative they are? Or do you think the opposite is true and that you learn to be creative over the years? How do you know that someone is creative? What do you actually do when you are thinking creatively?
Do you think your colleagues would answer these questions the same way as you do? In my experience, people hold very different views of creativity. Some think they aren't creative at all and it is only the privileged and artistically talented, who can be considered creative. Others think that to cook a good dinner is already a clear sign of creativity.
In the coming articles, I do not aim to answer the questions above. What I aim to do is to look at three different theoretical descriptions of creative thinking and explore what language teachers may learn from them. I hope that after reading the articles, you will be able to ask many more and much more challenging questions about creativity and its use in the classroom than I did in the first paragraph.
Why is creativity important?
Before we set out and look at some theories and practice for introducing creativity into the language classroom, let's see why it is worth making all this effort. Why is creativity important in language classrooms?
- Language use is a creative act. We transform thoughts into language that can be heard or seen. We are capable of producing sentences and even long texts that we have never heard or seen before. By giving learners creative exercises, we get them to practise an important sub-skill of using a language: thinking creatively.
- Compensation strategies (methods used for making up for lack of language in a communicative situation e.g. miming, drawing, paraphrasing used for getting meaning across) use creative and often imaginative ways of expression. Our learners will need these until they master the language.
- In my experience, some people cannot learn at all if they are not allowed to be creative. They do not understand the point in doing a language activity for its own sake, for only practising the language without a real content, purpose, outcome or even a product.
- My experience also taught me that most people become more motivated, inspired or challenged if they can create something of value, if they feel that in some ways what they do and how they do it reflect who they are.
- Creativity improves self-esteem as learners can look at their own solutions to problems and their own products and see what they are able to achieve.
- Creative work in the language classroom can lead to genuine communication and co-operation. Learners use the language to do the creative task, so they use it as a tool, in its original function. This prepares learners for using the language instrumentally outside the classroom.
- Creative tasks enrich classroom work, and they make it more varied and more enjoyable by tapping into individual talents, ideas and thoughts - both the learners' and the teacher's.
- Creative thinking is an important skill in real life. It is part of our survival strategies and it is a force behind personal growth and the development of culture and society.
Having read this list of why creativity is important in the classroom, you may have been wondering about either or both of these two questions:
- Am I ever creative?
- Do I ever get my students to do anything creative in my lessons?
I'm almost a hundred per cent sure that the answer is 'yes' to both of these questions. Let me show you why.
Am I ever creative?
Have you ever found that you wanted to do something but you did not have the right tool / material to do it, and then you found some way of using another object / material and managed somehow? E.g. You opened a bottle or a tin without a bottle or tin opener or substituted an ingredient in a recipe with another ingredient. Have you every changed an activity in your course book or a resource book to match the needs of a particular group you teach? YES? There you go, you are creative!
Are my students creative in my lessons?
Do you ever get your students to speak about, write about, draw about or mime what they think? Do your students say things in the foreign language they never heard or read? Do you ever get them to think about rules, problems and how things and language work instead of just telling them? Do you sometimes give them tasks where there is no one possible answer and the answers will vary from one learner to another? YES? There you go, your students have opportunities to think creatively in your classes already!
If you wish to be more aware of how creativity works in general and in your classroom so that you can make more informed decisions about using it and how to use it in your classes, join me for the upcoming three articles.
- I will use a definition of creativity that lists the four main features of it and I will look into the question of how we can bring these four features to the language classroom.
- I will boil the four features down to a shorter definition that – I believe - can grasp the essence of creativity and then I will show through some examples how this essential element of creativity can be added to language learning activities.
- I will use a theory of creative thinking roles and describe the classroom environment that can foster this kind of thinking.
National Curriculum in Action: Why is creativity so important?
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