Encouraging creativity and developing creative skills is important in any classroom. And this goes for the English language classroom too, whatever the age or ability of the learners. But this is all very well to say but what does it mean in practice?
Let’s start with defining what we mean by creativity, let’s have a look at a couple of dictionaries:
The on-line Oxford Learner’s Dictionary defines creativity as
the ability to use skill and imagination to produce something new or to produce art; the act of doing this
Macmillan’s definition of creativity is
the ability to create new ideas of things using your imagination
Both definitions agree that creativity is an ability, that it requires the use of your imagination and that the process leads to something new. Without context this idea of something new seems to be quite big and scary. But I think that encouraging creativity doesn’t have to be like that. In order to develop creativity in our language students we need activities and tasks that provide a framework yet gives them freedom, that demand focus and allow space for feedback, but are also fun.
Most of us do not write stories in our mother tongue, so we cannot expect it of students. There is no sense in sitting them down and saying “Write a story”. Most will fail. But we all have the ability to respond to questions and shape a story in our heads from a few prompts. Providing a framework for students to work with gives them the chance to be creative in the gaps.
By this I mean that the framework should not be too restrictive. That there is not always just one ‘right’ answer because that would then stifle creativity. And that we should not judge their creativity but focus on the language they are using to express this (though with younger learners there might be issues of appropriacy to address).
A task should have an aim, that might be for students to use some target language, improve writing skills or work on spoken fluency. And the teacher should know what the aim of the task is so the right framework can be provided that gives students the freedom to express themselves. And also so the teacher can provide worthwhile…
When an activity or task is primarily a creative one, as opposed to one that demands critical thinking for example, then I would argue that feedback needs to be given on two levels. There needs to be a response to the creative input the learner has put into the task, and in most cases this should be non-judgemental. It can also be a great source of student-led interaction and can be extremely motivating. There should also be feedback on the students’ language or skills performance.
Creative tasks, as we saw from the definitions, require imagination. And as the late, great Terry Pratchett said “Imagination, not intelligence, made us human.”