I’M the durian lady.” “What can I say, I’m a natural born villain.” “I’m the monkey?”
These were snippets from a conversation between groups of teachers at the Creative Writing Through Drama workshop during the 15th Melta conference.
The English teachers were given the task of coming up with a short skit based on the theme of a bank robbery. There was, however, a catch – they had to incorporate words that they had been given.
Tackling the job enthusiastically, each group came up with hilarious skits that were as much fun to perform as they were to watch.
Facilitators Surinder Kaur and Joanne Ong, who teach English at Fairview International School, said drama was a useful tool to inspire ideas for creative writing.
“Many students lack creativity, and are unable to generate ideas for writing. Incorporating drama into lessons is not only imaginative; it is also fun and spurs learners into action,” said Ong, adding that such learning was a form of “edutainment”.
Surinder said that in the course of dramatising a theme, students naturally organise their ideas, which helps in the writing process.
Having to use certain words also expands their vocabulary and motivates them to come up with their own words related to the theme.
“This is a good way to engage students and get them to use the words,” she said.
After performing the drama, the teachers were asked to do various short pieces of writing inspired by their role play, such as letters from the robber, journal entries and advertisements by security firms.
“It’s about getting students involved and allowing them to express their ideas. When they are totally immersed in the situation, they will find it easier to produce creative writing based on a theme,” said Surinder.
Stimulate their brains
Participants also enjoyed themselves in the Developing Reading and Writing Skills in Young Learners workshop conducted by Olha Madylus.
The freelance Young Learners consultant and teacher trainer demonstrated several easy-to-do language activities based on each of the multiple intelligences.
One of the activities involved her telling a story twice, with the participants only listening the first time, and taking down notes the second time. They then had to write out the story.
“In many jobs, we have to listen to understand, and students also have to learn to make notes that make sense.
“This activity is all about processing and selecting key information, as well as making you think about the writing process,” she explained.
Another activity was giving students riddles or a short text with a mystery in it.
“Students really focus on the text, and read it over and over again, trying to figure out the answer. And they usually don’t want you to give them the answer,” she laughed.
Other activities included rearranging random letters and words to form words and sentences respectively, telling a story but pausing to allow students to fill in descriptive passages, and asking them to describe a piece of music.
Madylus also emphasised the importance of not telling students they are wrong.
“I always say, ‘That’s a really interesting idea, but it’s not the answer,’” she shared.
She added that teachers should give students activities to stimulate their brains as education is meant to hone comprehension skills, resourcefulness, creativity and ingenuity.
Study guide to fun
Beryl Lutrin, author of the English Handbook and Study Guide, also focused on interesting activities to engage students during her workshop. She suggested that any text that interests students – magazine articles, advertisements and films – can be used to teach English.
Using an article on Malaysian Idol Jaclyn Victor, she demonstrated how one article could be used in myriad ways to teach different aspects of English, such as grammar, sentence structure, vocabulary and composition.
“Instead of walking into class and saying, ‘Today we’re doing punctuation’, which is boring, why not use articles that relate to the students to reinforce their lessons?” said Lutrin.
She added that such articles could also be used as a springboard for discussion and writing exercises that stretch over several lessons.
“This article, for example, could lead to discussion on competitions, judging, determination and so on. You could also get your students to write on things such as the winner’s diary, a letter congratulating the winner, the runner-up’s diary, interviews, or even poetry,” said Lutrin, who has 25 years of teaching experience in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Used hand in hand with her study guide, which is meant for teachers as well as learners of every age and stage, the activities enabled students to grasp the practical uses of language while having fun.
Many of the teachers who attended were even inspired to purchase Lutrin’s book immediately after the workshop.
“Teachers often worry about trying something new, because they are not familiar with it. But there is so much that a teacher can do that he or she may not even know he or she can do it,” said Lutrin.
“After all, many became English teachers because they wanted to be dynamic and inspiring, but then, life and the syllabus took over and there is just not enough time. Some of these activities allow them to do that.” – BY TAN SHIOW CHIN AND SHARMILLA GANESAN