Chrissi Florides – Creativity in the ELT classroom
Chrissi Florides has worked in EFL for over 30 years, with experience in teaching all ages from children to teenagers and adults. Chrissi is currently Director of Studies (DOS) at the Globe English Centre in Exeter.
What is creativity?
Creativity means getting students to participate in activities that encourage them to think of new things, letting them input their own ideas, and use their imaginations. Sometimes it means actually making something, like for primary learners making a house out of junk, or for secondary students it could be designing their ideal home. Creativity is simply an idea of something new, something different, where there is not a right or wrong answer. Creativity gives learners the chance to express themselves and to put forward their ideas, leading to a higher self-esteem. It helps the teacher work out what the students are good at, and what things they find difficult. Creativity also helps students work together.
So creativity is basically creating something new, and that thing could be something tangible, or it could be a story or an idea, a picture, which allows learners to express themselves in different ways.
Do you think that you can only be creative with young learners or children?
Not at all. Most of my creative activities I probably do with teenagers. The difficulty with young learners is that they do not have the necessary language skills. So the creative activities I do with primary learners are probably much more physical, like making a card or designing your favourite food using tissue paper, for example. In terms of language that younger learners can input, there is much less they can do. In primary schools the curriculum is still quite creative and children are very creative naturally, so it is not that you cannot be creative with this age group, it is just that they need it less.
My favourite age range for doing my style of creative teaching, i.e. things you do using the English language is actually teenagers, because their curriculum in secondary education is not creative and it is restricted by exams and syllabuses and coursebooks that teachers have to finish. So for me, teens do not get much chance to input their ideas, they do not have confidence in their ideas, sometimes they do not even realise that they have ideas and you have to encourage them. Activities that allow them to be creative help them to realise that they do have this potential. This leads them to think “I can express my ideas and this is fun, it’s getting me thinking in a different way”.
I put teenagers and adults in the same boat and when I do teacher training, I put together teens and adults activities. The only thing I have ever found with adults is they may question something that comes across as too gamesy, but if it is creative like writing a story, or using a picture to inspire language, or doing creative writing, then these activities work just as well with adults as with teens. I think adults may need a bit of creativity as they are often set in their ways. If they have chosen to learn English, however, then they are usually quite comfortable with new ideas.
With teens, it is different. I have noticed that primary children love school, but when they go to secondary, they hate it, especially now when learning a modern foreign language can be so textbook-based. That’s when they need creative activities. I have seen the most amazing pieces of work in a writing activity I do where the end result is a song, a poem, a story, or something like that. The pieces of writing I have had from teenagers have been unbelievable and phenomenal from an imaginative as well as personal level, things you would never have thought that a particular child was capable of. It is just that because they have never had the opportunity.
Is it possible to combine creativity with exam-based programmes?
It is, you just have to be more imaginative yourself. With certain exams like Cambridge exams, they have to do certain forms of writing and you have to teach them the necessary formats, but once you have done that you can be creative in helping them come up with ideas. In terms of other papers such as Use of English, it can be more difficult. Speaking exams are great for being creative, and doing role-plays with creative situations can help students prepare.
Creativity is a bit of a buzzword at the moment, any ideas why?
It may be a backlash to the way general education is going, as education becomes more exam-based, with more rote learning. Another buzzword is critical thinking. People are now thinking about more than just passing exams. The job for life no longer exists and a lot of people change careers during their working lives. People need different kinds of skills and creative activities can help develop these soft skills, to think outside the box. Also there are a lot more creative jobs out there, in marketing, on the internet, etc.
Recently I have been proposing more collaborative writing with teens and exam students. I now set homework to be done in groups and find that students are more motivated to do it in this form. For example, with my adult exam classes, I give them a topic and ask for a vocabulary brainstorm. When they come back the next week, we work with everything they have come up with.
Creativity seems to be a trend, not just in teaching . . .
Yes, two of my two daughters got colouring books for Christmas, and I saw one of them the other day, happily colouring in. Many people spend so much time on their phones that there is no creative outlet. It is not that I hate technology, but I do not like what technology can do to kids and teenagers, and adults too. Children aged three or four have iPads and I just wonder why they are not playing with Lego or getting dirty in the garden. Creativity is a backlash to all this and many teachers are trying to get students away from their phones and getting them to think in a different way. For example, when I teach primary I finish every lesson with a story.
What advice would you give to a teacher who wants to be more creative in the classroom?
I would say have a look at my website (https://globeenglishtraining.wordpress.com), have a go. Take an idea and enjoy it! The biggest barrier is fear – people think students won’t like it.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, Chrissi.