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What have I learned from a recent dry run? Creativity on demand is hard!

03 Aug

Recently I found a really interesting blog post about the 20 most commonly used phrasal verbs in English.*  Phrasal verbs are notorious among English learners and when I saw this I thought, ‘Cool!  How can I use this?’

I wanted to try something creative and that is where I have hit a, so far, insurmountable obstacle.  I’m going to go through what I have tried so far, not in class, just by myself.  I wanted to place myself in the role of my students.  Before I ask something creative of them, I wanted to see how I would cope with it:

1. Craft a discussion amongst 3 or 4 people that use all 20 of these phrasal verbs.

The idea being to get the students to act out this scene, switch roles, act it out again, etc.**  This was almost a non-starter as keeping 3 or 4 characters going in a story very quickly became too much of a challenge.  I’m not a professional wordwright.

2. Simplify it.  Craft a conversation between only 2 people that use all 20 of these phrasal verbs.

I thought, this should be relatively easy and it is certainly doable but the phrasal verbs seem to steer the conversation into a relatively negative story (at least they do whenever I am behind the creative wheel it seems).  Negative stories don’t help us to remember as well as feel-good or funny stories… so back to the drawing board.

3. Seek creative inspiration.  Storybird.

I haven’t used Storybird with any of my classes yet but I thought this would be a wonderful opportunity to try it out and make a story which could educate and whet my students’ appetites for trying to use this wonderful website for themselves.   Unfortunately, being stuck to these 20 phrasal verbs, which is the task I had set myself, meant that the pictures produced more restrictions than provided creative inspiration.

4. Change the objective.  Craft a story that works with only 5 or 10 of the phrasal verbs.

This works and really, it was unrealistic to believe that an activity that immediately included all 20 phrasal verbs would be of much use to learners.  I do want to find a way to make sure that the lesson provides a decent opportunity for all students to use, practise and learn all 20 of these phrasal verbs, but this has to be built up in steps.

At the moment I’m still thinking.  I’m still wondering if I can go back to an earlier story I wrote and improve it, make it funny or heart-warming or something.  The problem there is that comedy is incredibly subjective and when trying to cross a cultural divide (and an age gap of about a decade and a half), literal comedy is one of the most difficult forms to make work.

So what have I learned from this?

  • Even if I can put a decent story together, I will have spent FAR more time than I could allow my students in class.
  • The failure to produce a happy, funny or simply a well-written story with these restrictions has disappointed me.  Such disappointment for my learners would probably equate to a drop in motivation and self-esteem.
  • Working in a group might help me to produce a good story but what I’m really missing is sufficient structure and guidance.

So how has it gone?

With a couple of additions (I think ‘come on’ and ‘go well’ are just a couple of essential phrasal verbs to add to this list) I’ve covered this list with half of my classes so far but there still hasn’t been a spark.  I’m not happy with any of the stories I’ve made up and so I’m not using any of them and therefore I’m still presenting the list as just a list basically.

Well that’s not completely true, I’m actually presenting this as a memory/guessing game, a bit more interactive but my approach here has been less than inspiring for my students so far, I think.  I might throw this one over to Sandy Millin’s excellent brainstorm site, (Almost) Infinite ELT Ideas.

So that’s where things are at the moment.  Any ideas?

Notes

* Just in case you are wondering, the 20 most common phrasal verbs are apparently as follows: bring up, carry on, chase up, come across, come up with, fall apart, get along, get away with, get over, give up, go on, hold on, look after, look up, make out, pull over, put down, put off, turn up, watch out. (Click here for the original article with explanations)

**  This comes from Alan Tait’s recent idea about taking a movie scene and getting the students to act it out and, in doing so, providing plenty of repetition as well as taking some ownership of the text and playing with it.

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6 Comments

Posted by on August 3, 2011 in Activities, Reflections

 

Tags: , , , , ,

6 responses to “What have I learned from a recent dry run? Creativity on demand is hard!

  1. @eltbakery

    August 3, 2011 at 1:50 am

    It’s not always easy to be creative when making activities so that the TL we want to teach is in there. So, being a ‘bit’ less creative… for intermediate/upper intermediate groups, I’d do the following:
    1. write part of each phrasal verb in a slip of paper and another part in another slip of paper.
    2. Ask Ss to match the slips and try to guess the meaning of each phrasal verb. Do like a race or some kind of competition.
    3. In groups, check if somebody else knows what each phrasal verb means.
    4. Teach the ones they don’t know.
    5. Ask each group to come up with a question using each phrasal verb.
    6. Mix groups again and make them interview one another using the Qs chosen by their groups.

     
    • Gordon Scruton

      August 3, 2011 at 12:48 pm

      Thanks for the suggestion. I’ll try that with the classes and see how it goes. I’ve got a nice variety of classes within the Intermediate to Lower Advanced level today so it will be interesting to see how it goes with each group.

       
  2. Bob Knowles (@BobK99)

    August 10, 2011 at 10:22 am

    Although it’d take you longer than you could allow for your Ss, you could write a story based on all the ones that use ‘come’ or ‘take’ (or… these are just the first two that spring to mind), and make a cloze (with gaps for the particles) – to be followed up with some of the reinforcing activites already mentioned.

    b

     

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