Bringing some creativity into the classroom is a great way to motivate teenagers. It allows them to express themselves; it encourages independent thought and it can often give you, the teacher, a little time off.
It’s important to prepare students for any creative activity. As a writer, I know only too well the terror of the blank page. Don’t expect your students to create something from nothing. But with guidance, structure and some models, your students may well surprise you with what they can produce.
Where possible, give your students some choice in their creative output. Some students may enjoy producing a piece of written work; others may be happier working on a spoken presentation to the class or focussing on something more graphic – a poster or a labelled diagram. Creative activities allow you to differentiate in the classroom – letting students choose what they feel most comfortable with and giving them the opportunity to excel.
In the Impact Series, we use projects at the end of each unit to consolidate the unit theme. We provide a choice of three projects for each unit. By giving choice to the students, we’re helping them to take responsibility for their own learning, but we also give a very clear structure for each project so that students feel supported and independent at the same time.
But why should creative activities be restricted to the end of the unit? I’ve found that using raps and songs, we can encourage students to be creative and get them to drill target grammar or vocabulary at the same time!
Here’s an example I’ve written for this blogpost. Let’s imagine that you’ve covered the present perfect with ever and never in class. Now you want to get your students to practise making their own present perfect questions and answers. This very simple structure lends itself to plenty of variations which your students can provide. Go through the rap once or twice with your students. If you want to use a backing track, you can find lots of free rap backing tracks on YouTube. If you’re not very good at rapping – don’t worry! You will probably find that at least one or two of your students will be keen to demonstrate their own, superior, rapping skills!
Present Perfect Rap
What have you done?
Where have you been?
Who have you spoken to
What have you seen?
Have you ever won a race, ever ever?
Have you ever tried Thai food, no never?
Have you ever climbed a mountain, have you?
Have you ever been to Rome, is it true?
I’ve never won a race, it’s true
I’ve never tried Thai food, have you?
I’ve never climbed a mountain, you know.
I’ve never been to Rome, no no.
Now comes the creative part. Explain that you want students to create their own version of the rap. The words in blue will stay the same. The students have to replace the red words – the target grammar – with their own ideas. You can brainstorm different activities (e.g.: swim in the sea, eat a snail) onto the board first and then students can pick and choose which ones they want to put into their own rap. If the rap doesn’t scan so well …. that will make it more of a challenge for them to perform … and teenage students love a challenge!
Then invite your students to perform their rap. They may want to find their own, alternative rap backing track. Some students might even want to show off their beatboxing skills! If you want to develop the task further, you could get your students to make a video to go with their rap. This is a great chance for students who may have other skills – dancers, would-be costume designers, videographers – to work together in a creative enterprise that also drills the target language.
By using a structure like this, you’re setting an achievable target for students. They don’t have to find the rhymes or make up their own rhythmic pattern, they just have to think of their own phrases to personalise the rap.
Let’s look at one more way we can encourage creativity in the classroom – using powerful visual images. Keep a lookout for great photos and images. If you don’t already have a bank of links and pictures, start one now! There are so many ways we can use impactful pictures in the classroom, but here are a few suggestions specifically for creative tasks:
- Imagine this photo is part of an advertising campaign. What is it a campaign for? Write a slogan.
- Imagine this photo is the front cover of a novel. Write the blurb (the text for the back cover).
- If the photo has people or animals in it, you can ask students to write speech bubbles. At a recent workshop, I had some fantastic suggestions from teachers using this photo, which is from Impact Foundation, Unit 4.
So – to summarise, we’ve looked at three ways we can encourage creativity in the classroom: using projects; songs/raps and pictures.
Now it’s your turn to share your ideas. What creative ideas motivate your teenage students?
For more creative tips for your classroom, watch the recording of Katherine’s recent webinar, Motivating Teenage Learners in the Classroom.
Author: Katherine Stannett
Katherine Stannett is based in West Sussex, England and is an author with over twenty years of experience in editing, writing and developing materials to teach English. She specializes in writing for children and teenagers at all levels and is particularly interested in the development of 21st century skills. She is an author of National Geographic Learning’s Look, a seven-level series for young learners of English, and Impact, a five-level series for teenage learners of English.