WRITE YOUR BOOK! Creative Activities with Young Learners.
Nina MK, Ph.D.
Writing is perhaps the most difficult skill we teach; creative writing seems to be an insurmountable obstacle, unless we start this activity really early.
• When can we start? Once the young learners build up their first sentence in English, we can begin to encourage them to put it on paper.
• What can YLE write about? We can help them structure the activity by suggesting a simple theme, and/or ask them to offer their own ideas (if any).
• How can they present their written work? At first, it can really be just one sentence accompanied by an illustration. Regardless of whether they can really draw or are still at the stage of stick figures, we should praise their efforts.
• Where can YLE do this kind of work? It is probably better to begin in the classroom, so that they can ask all their questions, show you their work and settle their doubts and apprehensions. Once you launch them on their creative path, they can continue doing this project at home.
• Who can write such a book? Any and all students, at any level of English, at any age.
• Why embark on this project? When students of any age write down their thoughts and ideas in English, then spend some time either illustrating or decorating their new page, they memorize the new words, expressions and grammar better. And it’s fun!
For YLE, I would suggest the simplest beginning. Once they learn how to say, “This is I. This is a boy. This is a girl. This is my mother/father/sister/brother”, we may suggest that they write this down and draw a picture or pictures. Page 1 is born. Then we can explain the whole idea, in as few words as possible, and show them a few examples of how “a real book” can be done. If you conduct the same creative exercises with senior classes, for instance, you may have some really good examples of self-made books, nicely printed out, with various fonts, borders and shading, with pictures drawn or inserted. It is also easy today to spiral-bind a booklet so that it looks like a published work. Young learners should understand that this is an ongoing project which may continue through the whole school year.
After the first quite artistic or clumsy attempts at drawing whoever and whatever they wish, we may proceed to other topics according to the lesson plans and the school curriculum. One of the popular subjects for a new tiny chapter always is, “What I See on My Way to School”. By the time we progressed to that, in November, there was already plenty of snow around. My most active pupil brought me a new chapter: he gave me a blank white sheet of paper with just one line in the bottom of it, “This is what I saw on my way to school today”. It took me a second to realize that the white paper symbolized the new snow!
By fifth grade, my students would produce little essays on their chosen subject, type them on the school computers, insert pictures and decorate their chapters any way they liked. Some classes would prefer to follow one class theme while others would ask for individual topics. By ninth grade, I would see which teenagers were really creative and saw some future use for their writing, and which ones were more inclined to mathematics or science. Yet all of them enjoyed writing their own books.
Putting your thoughts in order and then writing them down be it for a newspaper article, for a scientific report, or just for a letter, is an important skill which is needed throughout life, no matter which profession and occupation our students choose. Teaching them how to create their own little books when they are at beginner level and at a young age brings forth their creativity. A nice side-effect to this writing and drawing activity is an immediate hush you achieve in the classroom without even trying. Children concentrate on the task at hand, they enjoy expressing themselves, they never realize it is part and parcel of their lesson but rather see it as something separate and special, something to be enjoyed.