CREATIVE OUTPUT Activities for Teaching Speaking and Writing

Book Review: ETAS Journal Winter 2018

Gerhard Erasmus and Hall Houston 

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform(2017)

ISBN: 9781537128283, paperback

143 pages

Creative Output offers teachers practical resources to assist in improving students’ productive skills. Hence, the activities are focused on enhancing speaking and writing skills which means providing language learners with plenty of output opportunities. The tasks are designed to encourage creativity and interactivity. In this sense, the tasks facilitate a student-centred learning approach. 

This practical paperback is convenient to carry around and can be used by novice and experienced teachers alike. The activities can be implemented for a range of age groups and language level abilities. The book is clearly divided into Part A and Part B. Part A discusses the authors’ rationale for publishing Creative Output, explains how the book is structured, and briefly discusses its theoretical foundations. This section provides useful guidelines and checklists and expands on the purpose and benefits of integrating output activities into language lessons. 

I particularly like the way the authors emphasise that the onus is on teachers to adapt the resources so that relevance and authenticity are maximised. Hence, we as teachers are acknowledged as being the experts and consequently responsible for tweaking the design of each activity so that it serves its purpose based on criteria that are specific to our teaching and learning contexts. Although this book can be dipped into, I recommend taking the time to read Part A. Novice teachers can learn something new and benefit from the checklists and experienced teachers can benefit from being reminded about why we make the decisions we do. This relates to decision-making before, during, and after an activity.   

Part B constitutes six sections which are briefly outlined in the Table of Contents. A more detailed description of each section is provided on pages 21 to 24. Hence, you can gain a better overview from these pages when you are searching for suitable tasks. Output activities are first treated individually that is, as speaking and writing skills in Section 1 and 2 and then in Section 3 they are drawn together. Whilst the primary aim of this resource book is to help teachers take a principled approach to the process of language production, Section 4 is devoted to input skills and how these can be utilized as a catalyst for output activities. Section 5 focuses on book-based activities and Section 6 is aimed at young learner activities. Dispersed throughout the book are extra links and tips for further reading. 

In my experience, these types of resource books often utilise a coding system to grade specific activities according to a learner’s language ability. However, the authors state that they have consciously refrained from doing this. The reasoning underpinning this is that they want teachers to have the freedom and flexibility to modify resources as they see fit. This may not appeal to everyone. I personally find that categorising activities according to language ability can sometimes by default prevent you from looking at it in more depth. Rather than deciding for ourselves what is appropriate or not for our students, it is being prescribed. This is however, a matter of personal preference and choice. 

What you will find when dipping into this book is that, on the whole, each activity has its own page with plenty of white space. Therefore, you can scan through tasks quickly. One or two sentences explain the preparation and the procedure is designed as steps. Each Section, e.g. Section 2 Writing Activities, opens with a brief explanation of its purpose and rationale and in some cases, we are reminded that these resources are meant to be adapted. Thus, although steps are provided in the procedure section, they are offered as a guideline and not as a prescriptive measure. They are not meant to act as a constraint but as an example of what could possibly be done with a particular idea. So, you can utilise them as a template.  

What I particularly like about this book is that the authors encourage teachers to use it as a “springboard for thought and discussion” (Erasmus & Houston, 2017, p. 2). They encourage teachers to be reflective and critical practitioners and adapt the resources accordingly. In this way, it is possible to take ownership of an idea and modify it to suit your students’ needs. The authors also encourage teachers to share their ideas further via social media tools or participatory media such as blogs. This is just one means of improving practice and potentially a means of connecting and collaborating with other teachers. If you are looking for some fresh ideas that can help you make your output tasks more creative, fun, and interactive then this practical little paperback is worth adding to your toolkit. 

Patricia Daniels

(Freelancer)

International Management Institute (IMI)