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Activities That Encourage Language Creativity and Production

Many of the activities presented throughout this book also support creativity and production, especially WebQuests (see chapter 1 and http://webquest.org for more information). These activities can also integrate principles for language learning and engagement, including social interaction, authentic tasks, and learner autonomy.

In developing tasks and activities that encourage creativity and production, teachers and students should reflect on why to use technology. As discussed earlier, if the technology does not make the process or product more effective or more efficient, teachers and learners should consider other tools. For example, English language learners are sometimes asked to produce a text-based Web page or blog to introduce themselves to others. Because this task limits the types of language that learners produce and the creativity with which they can use language, it might be more useful, depending on the teachers’ goals, to have students develop richer products such as video footage, a digital photo montage, or a short multimedia book. However, with these tasks learners can get caught up in the graphics and lose opportunities for language learning—teachers must make sure that the task is devised so that learners focus more on language.

In another project, where secondary school English language learners create multimedia books for elementary school English language learners, the multimedia features can make the text more accessible, provide many types of input and opportunities for output, and make an elementary school audience more likely to respond to the content. Teachers can help learners use technology’s features creatively to provide younger learners with a more complete literacy experience.

Helping language learners to create and produce effectively might seem like an overwhelming task at this point; however, by focusing on the principled use of technology, the number of possible tasks is almost limitless. Although this text tries to avoid focusing on the technology over the task and goals (in other words, technocentrism), it divides  the examples below into three categories to demonstrate that creativity and production result not from the technology used, but from the task structure. The example task categories are

(a) those that require basic technologies, (b) those that call for the use of relatively more sophisticated technologies, and (c) those that require the use of advanced technologies.

The examples below do not include the whole lesson plan and are not addressed to specific grade or language levels, although some possible language objectives are listed for each activity. All of them can be adapted to use different technologies and to work in different contexts. Important to note is the ways that they emphasize task engagement principles.

Creativity and Production With Basic Technologies

Create a Wanted Poster

This activity can help students to understand U.S. culture and to practice present tense and forming sentences. Students complete the following steps:

  • find a photo of a person (magazine, Web, or personal). The teacher can choose a theme if desired (movie stars, historical figures, etc.).
  • develop text about that person that fits the format of a Wanted poster
  • type the text using appropriate fonts and styles, leaving room for a photo
  • affix or insert the photo and post

Students can get very creative with this activity, especially when they use photos  of movie stars, international leaders, and white-collar criminals and are allowed to make up whatever details they want. (Time magazine is a great place for photos; see http://www.time.com/.) If students are using real biographical information (perhaps researched on the Web), the teacher can follow up by covering the photos and having learners guess who the wanted character is from the text. See Figure 5.1 for a student example.

 

Figure 5.1. Sample Wanted poster.

Produce a Résumé

This activity will help learners to practice listening for discrete information, organizing writing, forming questions, and using past tense. Instead of typing their own résumés, learners

  • develop an interview scheme based on information required for résumés
  • interview a classmate
  • create their classmate’s résumé using a word processor
  • read and suggest revisions to their own résumé
  • revise the résumé they typed
  • present their classmate to the class

This activity facilitates extensive interaction among students and helps students to understand elements of résumés. It keeps learners engaged throughout the task, and it can be seen as a very authentic task.

Create Holiday Cards

This activity will enable students to practice with culture, slang, and audience. They invent their own holidays, and then

  • develop symbols for that holiday
  • decide on the holiday’s slogan
  • create a holiday card(s) addressed to a specific audience(s) using a word processor and any available graphics. If available, they can be printed on greeting card stock.
  • develop a plan for marketing their holiday and share it and their cards with peers and others.

During this activity students learn about cultural (and political) traditions while addressing their own interests. For many of them, holiday cards will be authentic, and the freedom that they have within the structure of the task can provide them with an effective balance of structure and autonomy.  Happy Peanut Butter Day, everyone!

Develop a Simple Newsletter

This activity, which is common in both ESL and EFL classes, enables students to practice forming questions, scanning, reporting, and using adverbs of time. Students complete the following steps:

  • collect information through interviews, literature reviews, and other means
  • type their articles using a word processor (many of them have templates)
  • take any photographs necessary or available
  • work with classmates to edit, headline, and lay out the articles
  • copy and deliver the newsletter to relevant parties

Some of the most interesting newsletters are often the simplest ones. Again, this offers teachers the opportunity to provide different levels of structure and autonomy, balance challenges with skills, and engage learners deeply in a task that they are interested in.

Generate T-Shirts and Bumper Stickers

This activity will enable students to practice idioms, slang, and humor. Students can accomplish it in many ways, but in general, they

  • develop slogans or sayings based on their study of idiomatic English, the purpose for displaying slogans, and their own personal experiences
  • revise based on classmates’ or others’ comments
  • type their sayings into a word processor
  • print with special bumper sticker or t-shirt iron-on paper
  • Display

Even students at beginning proficiency levels can come up with some witty and thoughtful sayings for this activity, and it can be integrated easily into content-area study. The engagement principles are clearly embedded within the task; for teachers who want more structure, perhaps they can present pre-selected idioms to students in a more traditional way and then have students practice with a task like the above.

Creativity and Production With More Sophisticated Technologies

Books for Younger or Less Proficient Students

The task, described previously, enables students to practice narrative, discussion, and reading aloud. Students complete the following activities:

  • develop stories in cooperative groups in a chosen genre
  • use a book-making app or Microsoft PowerPoint to develop multimedia texts
  • illustrate and edit with peers
  • share with the intended audience

Addressing an authentic audience that differs from one’s peers requires students to think about how to do so, including not only what specific vocabulary and forms to use but how their audience will best understand the narrative. Learners can include animated characters, short video clips, and different font sizes, colors, and texts in ways that they think will engage their audience with the text. They can even make bilingual texts if they have the capability. This task includes social interaction, student interest (in the technology or in the text or both), authenticity (books for younger children to access), autonomy within structure, the opportunity to work at any level of language and technology; all of these can support learners’ task engagement.

Action Mazes

In this activity, students can practice connectors, story writing, and discussion. In collaborative groups, students

  • decide on a topic and layout for their maze
  • write the text and decide how it will branch at decision points
  • find or create necessary graphics
  • create the maze in a program such as Microsoft PowerPoint or Quandary (Half-Baked Software, 2009), which is software specifically made to author action mazes
  • share it with peers

Action mazes (Egbert, 1995; Healey, 2002; Holmes, 2002; also see Teachers’ Websites Online, http://www.teacherswebsitesonline.com/Extras/Action_Mazes.html, 2018) facilitate discussion, collaboration, and creativity in both the creators and the users, and with effective planning can easily engage students in the task…

Ideal Neighborhood Map

This activity enables learners to practice present tense, local vocabulary, and culture. In teams, they

  • brainstorm features of their neighborhood that they like
  • reflect on what is missing and what else they would like to see
  • agree on what their ideal neighborhood would look like
  • use a program such as Minecraft (Mojang, 2009) to create the map (also see http://larryferlazzo.edublogs.org/2008/12/03/the-best-map-making-sites-on-the-web/ for Larry Ferlazzo’s list of “Best Map-Making Sites on the Web)
  • present to peers, trying to get votes as the ideal neighborhood or most nearly ideal

This activity can lead to many others in which learners talk about their hopes and dreams, or their real neighborhoods, or even how cities should be built, and it could also be the precursor to a community service learning activity. When learners get to share their opinions with others, the task can meet many of the principles for language task engagement.

Us Presentations

Learners practice comparatives, descriptive vocabulary, and presentation skills. In heterogeneous, cross-level, and cross-age groups, learners

  • brainstorm similarities and differences among themselves
  • choose a focus for their slide show
  • design their show on paper, each learner creating at least one slide
  • create the multimedia slide show using presentation software like Prezi, PowerPoint, or Powtoon
  • present the show and answer questions

By creating and producing with others, engaged learners improve their language abilities while also increasing their cultural capital.

Interactive Quizzes

This activity enables learners to practice forming questions and statements and explaining. Working alone or in groups, they

  • choose the format, questions, and answers (with feedback) for their quiz on a course topic
  • create their quiz in Hot Potatoes (Version 6.0), Jeopardy (Jeopardylabs.com; see Figure 5.2), or another quiz-making app
  • give their quiz and take other students’ quizzes to help them study for the teacher’s version

This activity is a good example of letting students show what they know and not doing what they can do; an engaging drill-in-disguise! It also reinforces right answers and helps learners to understand plausible mistakes.

 

Figure 5.2 Making a vocabulary quiz in Jeopardy (Jeopardylabs.com)

Creativity and Production With Advanced Technologies

New World Catalog

Learners practice future tense, conditionals, and descriptive language. Working together, they

  • design products for the world that they would like to live in (e.g., if they choose a less polluted world as their goal, they might design clean cars, baby diapers that disintegrate upon removal, and sun-powered refrigerators)
  • write text and add graphics to advertise each product
  • put the catalog together using an advanced desktop publishing program
  • print in color and share or post

This activity can also be done more simply using a word processor. During this activity, students need to reflect, predict, and create using the target language. Providing learners with opportunities to be creative can prove to be very engaging for them.

Digital Montages of Life in the United States

In this activity, students practice spoken narrative and fluency, and they learn about U.S. culture. To complete it, they

  • plan and organize by creating a storyboard using a brainstorming and planning tool
  • take photos of their subject using digital cameras (still or video)
  • record the voiceover
  • compile their movie with video creation software, such as iMovie (Mac) or OpenShot Video Editor (PC)
  • post to the Web, present to peers, trade with other schools

These technologies used to seem advanced but only because they were expensive. Today there are versions that even elementary school learners find easy to use, whether they have experience or not.

Coauthor a Story Using Electronic Conferencing  Software

This project enables learners to practice turn-taking and other pragmatics, narrative or storytelling, and editing. Working with learners at a remote site, they use desktop video conferencing or text conferencing to

  • collaborate to decide on a topic and a plan using software such as GoToMeeting or OpenMeetings
  • assign roles
  • write and edit the story
  • post it to an agreed-upon site for further comment from other groups

This kind of activity requires the learners and the teacher to persevere and be patient through any technical glitches, but the results can be worth it, and the social interaction definitely is.

Assemble Electronic Portfolios

In this activity, students practice reflection and presentation of language, and teachers have an opportunity to assess student learning. Teachers and students

  • agree at the beginning of the term on the portfolio contents and format
  • save portfolio components in electronic formats
  • organize the components in either a learning management system (LMS) like Canvas or Blackboard, a simple website development app such as Wix.com or Weebly.com, or an app made specifically for digital portfolios

Students can take responsibility for their own learning in language, content, and technology skills, which can function to engage them in the overall task.

If teachers have a good reason to do it, teaching learners through and about advanced technologies can help them accomplish many language and content goals while also teaching them valuable technology skills.

These examples are only a few activities that facilitate language production and creativity. This book and the related Resource Guide contain many others and the Web has even more examples. Teachers who want to design CALL activities that promote creativity and production should keep in mind the framework for engagement in language learning presented in chapter 1 and reflect on opportunities that the activities offer students to create and produce.

License

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Activities That Encourage Language Creativity and Production by Joy Egbert and Seyed Abdollah Shahrokni is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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