Sunday, 29 March 2015

Assigning creative tasks wisely

Being a real fan of communicative and project-based approaches I often find myself writing a lesson plan that leads to writing and presenting a poster/idea/concept, etc. Judging by my experience with such tasks and tasks on creative essays, students nowadays are struggling with coming up with ideas and something new. Well, to some extent it's just the matter of their age - boys of 11-15 years old tend to find everything connected with killing, blood and stuff funny. Ask them What would you do if a friend betrayed you? and you will get Kill him! as an answer. It's not that they are cruel or smth, no. It's just that they think it's chucklesome and usually laugh saying that. Other than this bloody topic, it's almost impossible to get some creativity from them. That's mostly about boys though. And it's not a universal rule, just a tendency.

So lately I've been thinking on how to spur their creativity, ability to think out of the box, come up with something new and break through their own borders.

And all that led me to some conclusions and suggestions about how to organise children's project work, which I'd love to share.

1) Keep language in focus. Ensure that eduactional goals are reached: if you want your students to use some particular vocabulary in their presentation speech there are two ways to do that:
- make it a requirement to use 5-10-15 phrases from some particular unit. When evaluating the presentation count how many they used and let it be one of the criteria of your final project assessment (with students being aware of it beforehand of course). However it may add some artificiality to their speech.
- set some very precise questions that should be covered in the presentation and which are unlikely to be answered without the vocab you want to train. These way the language will come to students' minds naturally, however there are no guarantees that they will use the lexis you have in mind. Although if your lesson is structured correctly and the project stage comes after a large number of activities with the vocab in focus, learners are more likely to reach the goal of using new words and expressions.

2) Too wide choice leads to no choiceGiving freedom in terms of subject of the task is good only for students who have sound experience in creative tasks. For students who are just starting to work with them wide field is confusing and, to add more, it even impedes the process of creation, as a learner has no idea what to write or even think about. Too wide choice leads to no choice.
That's why you need to set the topic and give the task as clearly as possible.

To illustrate this idea I can give you examples of projects:

1) what life in old times used to be like? - bad topic
2) what was it like to live in the 19th century? - better
3) what social life did people in the 19th century in France have? - good

The best thing is to provide your students with aspects that can/should/must be covered. As a task it should look like that:

What new home appliance will be invented by 2030?
-what will it do
-it's size
-it's price
-who will invent it
-how will it look
-will it have several modifications
-who will use it most

Give a narrow topic. Set very precise task. Give simple and clear instructions.

3) Collective brainstorming. Before getting into small groups or starting to work on one's own have a 3-5 minutes brainstorming session where students can suggest their ideas in a whole class activity. It will kill two (even more though) birds with one stone:

- shy students will see that any idea can be supported and has a right to live;
- shy students will get more engaged as everybody will be speaking their mind;
- students who cannot come up with anything will be able to choose from the topics suggested and not just sit and blink when time for project development comes;
- students will be able to look at the problem from different perspectives and see that ideas and points of view differ;
- even one word can stimulate smb's thinking process. Combination of ideas that one had in his head and another said out loud can give birth to some new brilliant thoughts.

4) Start together. Give or elicit from students possible ways of starting the writing/presentation.
What can we begin with?
What questions can we answer first?
What phrases can we use to start the speech?

All this will give the atmosphere of mutual engagement + drive the process from a dead-lock.

Wish you inspiration, fun and best of luck at your lessons! :))

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