More Creative Writing – Faten

Sorry guys, Creative Writing is a Charming Woman
– Faten Romdhani

Fatten Romdhani
Creativity has always kept my mind busy and my heart engaged. It seems to me that creativity is a wild issue and no one can tame it. If creativity were a woman, I would have called her the mysterious woman with the smiling face, the tempting nature, the bright future and the unfathomable depth. Even the most mesmerizing looks could not bewitch her in any way. Creative Writing, or CW as I rename it, is The Charming Woman.

Sorry guys!

She escapes the strict rules of society and of teaching and is delighted with the inspiration she awakens in the poets’ and/or writers’ minds and hearts. She is a charming woman, a siren-like being, exalting in music and nature and luring the sailors with the most penetrative music, poems, stories and helping them in the journey of self-discovery.

She is  soulful woman with a deep, untamed nature, she hooks teachers and keeps them awake all night to get some sort of inspiration. Inspirational ideas how to teach, how to start in an uncommon way, how to engage learners emotionally and make them feel the lesson to the extent that they enthusiastically get inspired themselves and start writing creatively. If the teacher is not creative, then creativity could not step into the classroom. It will always stroll outside, in the green fields, in the wild, boundless nature. Creativity is a guest the teacher and the learners invite in –  provided that the teacher sets the appropriate scene.

How can teachers inspire if they do not model inspiration? How can learners be creative writers if teachers do not allow learners to think and write creatively? And what if the teachers do not have any predilection for creative writing? It’s desperate to see that some teachers have lost all flavor for creativity and think that’s none of their business to give vent to the students’ imagination.

One of the many reasons that keep teachers reluctant to invite creative writing to their classrooms is that CW is still a taboo in many course books.  Creative writing needs a lot of patience and is also  time-consuming for many teachers, yet is so very rewarding for the many who are  conscious (conscious of the various advantages of CW) and adventurous (adventurous enough to be willing to risk and do not mind feeling human,and weak in front of their students) and creative (a label that cannot be allotted to any teacher unless they  toss away the dull, gloomy activities in the textbooks and opt for a more fun, engaging way they think is closer to giving learners some space and time to think and  write creatively. Most of the students, if not all of them, are creative, but if we keep teaching them monotonously, creativity would quit them forever.

Creative writing helps teachers build a nice bridge with their learners. Personally, I think the more creative the teacher is, the closer the learners would be to their teacher’s heart and mind. How to teach creative writing and how to instill creativity in the students is demanding, but is so rewarding. The teacher knows, by then, his/ her students like the palm of his/her own hands. Creative writing engages learners and helps them gain a lot of confidence, on the condition that the teacher encourages them to write on a regular basis.

Creative writing should not be confined to a limited time. It should be planned as part and parcel of every lesson. Time should never be a hindrance. If the students are so engaged in writing they will always find time to write creatively and puzzle everyone.

One of the experiences that conjures to my mind is that learners never believe they are poets unless they start writing their poems and feel they can themselves aspire and inspire. Many of my learners dazzled me to the point that I burst into tears of joy. This happens at that moment when you feel that your students have such an amazing creativity that it leaves you in such a wondrous state.  You – and even  them –  never imagined they could write creatively.

One step towards creativity would help students attain more self-confidence, feel the joy of learning and start a self-discovery journey. I still remember those faces the learners have when I ask them to write poems (free poems or acrostic poems) or stories. They always start by some sarcastic comments: “we are no poets! We barely speak! We barely write! We have no time!” Most of the time, those who deny their talents are the ones who keep sending me their poems – even after they leave school for university. One pupil( Omar) is still sending me some of his lovely poems though he is studying medicine now.  I want to share this last untitled poem he sent to me.

“should I run ?! should I stay ?!

should I let go , watch it fade away ?!

should I stand up and fight ?!

should I  break down and drown ?!

 I’m taking my way to the unknown,

 through the night I’m walking all alone,

 just me and a sad lonely moon,

and a little cold wind blowing from the wood.

should I leave it all behind ?!

 should I slow down and make up my mind ?!

through all these thoughts,

 I’m going blind,

there is one way out I’ll have to find. “

I hope you liked the poem. If so, please do not hesitate to visit my class blog of poems and write some encouraging comments to my students. I started this blog long ago with my students and I publish their poems as a form of recognition. It’s true I’ve been neglecting it for a while after being submerged with work, but this is no excuse and I am convinced I should carry on publishing their poems in the blog. The idea of the blog is not mine.  I was inspired by my colleagues Mr. and Mrs. Hadji whose ICT Trainer Class Blog is an inspiration. Keeping an electronic platform for their creative pieces of writing will be of enormous importance to them and to us as teachers of different generations.

To end up my post, I would like to share this creative writing activity I implemented with my students. Here are the steps: I asked them to draw a circle, colour, describe it, and tell who would be with them in the circle. What are their feelings? Where would they like their circle to be?

The learners sit the way they like while listening to some soft music. Those moments are unforgettable for me because I felt an immense joy seeing them engage in writing about themselves, their inner thoughts, revealing their deep feelings and sharing their joys and sorrows.

Last but not least, nothing is more expressive as this quote by Don De Lillo:

“Writing is a form of personal freedom. It frees us from the mass identity we see all around us. In the end, writers will write not to be outlaw heroes of some under culture but mainly to save themselves, to survive as individuals.”

I’ll  let you enjoy reading some of my students’ thoughts and creative essays. These are students who have been learning English for more than 4 years. I am sharing their writings with you, the way they presented them with no “intrusion” whatsoever from my part.

Please see below for an example of my students’ work completely the task I describe in this post:


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More Creative Writing – Ann

Ann Loseva

Concerns About “Creative Writing
–  Ann Loseva


Eight years ago I was studying German as a second foreign language at the teacher training university I later graduated from. I remember writing a two-stanza poem in German as homework once. My task was to include irregular (strong) verb forms, and so I composed the most ridiculous and meaningless poem ever. Luckily the endings so conveniently and effortlessly rhymed. I didn’t feel creative or victorious over the language then. I still don’t know why forceful poetry writing should necessarily be seen as practising creative writing, and I hope all poetry lovers can excuse me for saying that. My skepticism extends beyond just poems to the notion of creative writing in general.

Ironically, the likely arguable truth that I’m currently preaching to my students and myself is that writing is a panacea. Writing helps systematize thoughts and then express them more clearly in speaking. Writing helps us process reading better. Writing to me is about the most consuming activity, demanding real and serious brain effort. Seeing the words pouring out of your pen or keyboard is getting evidence of what relationship with a language you have. No wonder these two terms my students have been faced with a lot of writing tasks. There’s been no label “creative” for any of these tasks, though, mostly because I’m doubtful these tasks have been creative. My doubts originate from the unobvious and controversial meaning of the word creative — which seems to bother me quite a bit these days. Those concerns run along these lines:

  • If creative stands for something that is out of the box, then I can’t help mentioning that what’s out of the box for each and every single student, for me, for any teacher is different. What are (or are there any) measuring guidelines and thresholds for creative writing?
  • What is supposed to be seen and valued as creative – form, content, viewpoint, a combination of these?
  • If creativity is about expressing your individual perspective, is an opinion essay an example of creative writing?
  • Is a student who articulates his/her opinion concisely in 2 sentences less creative than a mate writing up a whole page on the same idea?
  • Are there any level priorities? Will my students of a very low level and limited skills to construct sentences be devoid of this opportunity to write up something creative?

There’s a student I teach who turns upside down every simplest writing task. None of his sentences, following the most elementary of patterns, is ever serious or matches the task completely. Answering questions, completing sentences, rephrasing – he always puts his own spin to the task, he plays with the language to make us laugh, to seem ridiculous, to always be different. There’s a lot about how English works that this student has yet to learn. Still, it’s amazing how he can be that smart and free with the language while apparently having very basic and vague understanding of it. I can imagine that for some teachers his attempts to draw attention through his linguistic experiments would seem sheer nonsense, but to me this is an understanding of where his kind of creativity stems from.

In fact, do individual and original equal creative? How do I measure the originality of a learner of a foreign language when I stuff their heads with the same vocabulary items and grammar patterns? Some students may not have the language feel and extensive vocabulary, and yet are very concise in linguistic expression.

Another student of mine, a shy boy, a hardworking but not well performing learner, made a presentation. He’d prepared his text well and learnt it by heart. He couldn’t connect words to make up grammatically correct replies to his group-mates’ questions afterwards. But the captions to the photos on his slides were unforgettable. The presentation entitled “The dark side of tourism” featured such dark sides on slides as “Mosquitos. Mites. Bears.” and “Fire. Wood. Firewood.” This is creative writing, if you ask me.

What else is creative writing? When I run thin on ideas, I turn to my students for inspiration and insights, and most often I get what I look for. Two groups of students, all of them majoring in Physics, took my call seriously and answered (in what was not “creative writing” form) the following question: What does “creative writing” mean to you? 

Here are some of their thoughts – which served as both proof and revelations on the topic for me and opened up a range of perspectives on what can be considered creative writing. It’s also my belief that they wrote these lines somewhat creatively.

Creative writing is constantly searching for words and expressions, the process of exploring the language and its potential.

Creative writing is conscious rule breaking.

Creative writing means crossing the borders of the task. It’s like feeling that you can do more than will satisfy you and make people really get into your work. For example, this task (answering the question) wasn’t done with creativity. Come remake everything as tiny ideas visualize in thoughts *of* yours.

Usual writing is something that a writer has to do, but creative writing is something that a writer wants to do, he’s interested in what he writes.

Creative writing is such type of writing where we can see some personality of a writer. It may be a special way of expressing thoughts or use of specific terms. It also may be the introduction of new concepts, for example copyright neologisms.

Creative writing means that I don’t cheat on it and don’t use a template.

And finally, an indirect proof that I’m no creative writing teacher: I think creative writing is a composition. I don’t like this, it’s difficult for me to express my thoughts, especially in English, of course this should be studied. I am not sure I’ll be glad if this activity appears in our classes.

As you might have already guessed, I don’t seem to teach much creative writing. I hope I’m doing my best to make my students see that they can write in English and cope with the challenges I give them. “Trying” for creative language output seems self-deluding and unfairly demanding of students. However, there are learners who keep amazing me by causing me to question my aversion to … poem writing. A couple of days ago during a brainstorm of ideas for our final class with postgraduate Physics students, one of the first ideas that came up to them was to write a scientific poem together.

Next week I’m going to teach creative scientific poetry writing. Never say never.


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More Creative Writing – Kevin

Kevin Stein

Hand Holding Most Definitely Allowed
– Kevin Stein


A few weeks ago I introduced Storybird to a few of my students who were hanging out after school.  The site is filled with sets of professional level illustrations and an easy to use interface which allows people to create original picture books. After I had finished showing off what you could do on the site, most of the students kind of shrugged and drifted off to practice listening with Lyrics Training or to do vocabulary work with Quizlet. But one student, Y-Chan, got right to work on making her picture book. It was the story of a rabbit who could only hop backwards. Y-chan worked on the story all week. When she was finished, she let me read it and then absolutely refused to let me show the other students or link to it in my blog (or anywhere else for that matter). She was perfectly satisfied with putting the story together and showing it to her teacher.

In case you’re wondering, this blog post is not at all for students like Y-Chan, because for every Y-chan there are 10 students who don’t really think that writing a poem or story is all that fun. And out of those ten, there might be one or two for whom the idea creative writing activities is terrifying. We have that cliché, “my mind went blank.” But the fact that it’s a cliché masks just how unnatural the whole concept really is. Minds don’t go blank. They are constantly throwing up ideas, images, the detritus of ourselves. So it’s not surprising that some students, when faced with a snowy white sheet of paper and a similar expanse of nothing in their minds, feel a hint of panic. If I’m going to assign students creative writing assignments, I think it’s my responsibility to tamper down that feeling to the best of my ability. Here are two ways I’ve found to make creative writing activities a little less scary:

Pick the right form

A number of poetry and even prose forms provide a structure which makes the act of creating something new a little less daunting. I’ve found that Haiku, with it’s three lines in a short/long/short combination is limiting enough (and short enough) that students don’t quite get as panicked as they might with a longer assignment.  There are a number of Internet sites and blogs of people writing haiku in English as a second language. One of my favorites, English Haiku English Haiku is worth using as examples for a writing assignment, or even for a reading class.  Similarly, Six Word Memiors, a story in only six words, work well with almost any level English student. But even limiting the space which students have to fill up isn’t enough sometimes. Just in case, before I start this type of short form writing assignment, I prepare six themes which I then write up on the white board. Things like, “What I did last summer,” “My worst Day,” and “My favorite thing,” work well.  Then, if I find a student who is still struggling to start writing, usually because they can’t decide what they want to write about, I just hand that student a die and tell them to roll it two times.  The numbers they roll are the themes they should use to start their writing.  And if all of this is still not enough to get a student’s pencil moving, I will simply supply the first few words of the assignment for them.  Jotting down the word ‘yesterday I’ or ‘tired,” at the top of the page makes choosing the next word much easier.  And when they are done, students can go back and erase those first words—usually without any damage to the piece as a whole—making the work entirely their own.

Provide good prompts

For longer activities in which the form is less constraining, I find that some students need a series of prompts to set them at ease. The prompts are a way of assuring the students that they will be able to get from the beginning to the end of the piece. Adam Simpson over at Teach Them English Teach Them English has a great set of question prompts which serve to help students write a one paragraph story. The Story Box is another example of writing prompts. It’s a box of flash cards divided into Characters, Setting, and Action. In each section, there are cards with basic information, so a Character card might read, “Patty: 42 years old. Works in a library. Loves children. Is afraid of mice.” Students pick 1 setting card, 2 character cards, and one action card to start. The information on the card provides them with the information they sometimes feel they need to start writing. And if a students gets stuck in the middle of a story, the remainder of the page a cliff over which they are dangling, having them pick another “action” card usually provides the story (and their imagination) with enough of a push to get their pencil moving again.

You might wonder, if all these nudges and hand-holds are necessary to keep students moving through the process of writing, is it really worthwhile?  Isn’t there something easier students could do which might be a more effective use of time?  Maybe. I wonder that myself sometimes. Only, I love the open-ended nature of creative writing tasks. And some of the things students produce reveal them in ways that I could never get at through a more typical activity. But it’s more than just the selfish desire to get to know my students a bit better. When our students get out of the classroom, almost every communicative act is going to be novel, is going to require an act of imagination.  Providing an opportunity for students to play with language; to make something personal and new; to listen to other learners’ stories and poems; these are all a kind of training, I think, for the wildness of real communication. Sure, it’s not easy, but it doesn’t have to be.  That’s why we practice it.

There’s one other reason why I love to give students creative writing activities.  Remember Y-chan? Students like her thrive on these kinds of assignments and should also have a chance to shine. Best of all, you don’t have to worry about them being constrained by all those steps you set out for the other students.  Most of the time Y-Chans will raise their hands and simply ask, “Can I do something different?”  Then, like a rabbit who can only hop backwards, they’ll simply ignore all those signs you’ve staked along the way as they happily managed to get themselves from their very own beginning to their very own end, enjoying all the spaces in between.

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More Creative Writing

What is creative writing, what role does it play in language learning, and how can it
be encouraged? Ann Loseva, Kevin Stein, and Faten Romdhani share ideas, activities
and some very good writing.


Faten Romdhani
Faten Romdhani
Ann Loseva
Ann Loseva
Kevin Stein
Kevin Stein


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The Creative Writing Issue – Malu

Malu Sciamarelli

The Music of Words upon Words
– Malu Sciamarelli

My first contact with poems, stories and literature was when I was a small child. I remember my father reading and listening to music in a cozy living room in the evenings. I knew I could not read those books – “they are not for children”- he would tell me, but the inspiring music, and the words my father would keep his eyes on fascinated me so much, that I would secretly get those books and take them to my bedroom. I would put them together with my school-books, and read them in the school garden, when most children would only want to play. These books and the beautiful words they had, inspired me to find my own creativity and write my own stories and poems.

I still read books in the garden today. It is a perfect environment to read, listen to the music created by the sounds of nature and express my own creativity. It is also a place where I teach some Creative Writing classes. It is a free environment where my students are motivated to do things differently and feel confident to risk contributing fully. They can find their own creativity and express themselves through reading and writing.

Recently, I have been introducing not only reading to my Creative Writing classes, but also music. I have been trying to make a connection among writing, reading and hearing, in which the writer is not only a person who writes but becomes a person who hears. “Hearing” a written text means reading it in order to capture what passes between the lines, like the form and design of intonation. During silent reading, a world is awakened by the vibrations of the words’ sounds and images. But it also means the moment when the writer “hears” the words and writes them.

To introduce this experiment in my classes, and motivate my students to “hear” the text, I will share now the first set of activities I carried out with them.

I first brought a poem by Augusto de Campos, a Brazilian poet and writer. “O Pulsar” (“The Pulsar”) is a poem in the form of a telegram from the stars. The words of the poem appear in white on a black background with two letters transformed into patterns: the “o” is a small white solar circle, and the “e” is replaced by the image of a star, acting as “punti luminosi”. The poem asks the reader to open the window and see the near-mute pulsar.

We first read the original version in Portuguese, and then in English:

“Wherever you are
On Mars or in Eldorado
Open the window and see
The near-mute pulsar
A light-year embrace
That no sun warms
And that the dark echo forgets”

Immediately after reading the poem written on paper, we listen to it in the form of music, set by Caetano Veloso, a Brazilian musician and poet, accentuating the connection I have been trying to make.

After this first class, my students were asked to go home, and in the evening, open their windows, look at the stars and write a brief description of what they could hear and/or see. They all brought their texts to the next class, when they read them in turn. After each student read their text, we stopped and discussed what the others could see/hear in that text. All the perceptions were different – the images, the sounds, the meanings. Again, they were asked to take their texts home, open the window, look at the stars and read their texts. They could either keep them the way it was written, or change them.

In the next class, when they brought their second draft, and again we read them in turn, all the texts changed and so did their perceptions. After this experience, I could see “the fictional text as a closed music box that pulsates and reverberates what is experienced and what it thought in a written form that resounds anew with each rereading, recuperating what has been lost while also spreading new resonances into the future each time it is opened.” (Marilia Librandi-Rocha).

What do my experience of reading and writing in the garden, and these classes with my students show about creative writing? There are surely many points to explore, but I would highlight three main points:

1. Creative Writing is personal writing where the purpose is to express thoughts, feelings and emotions. It is expressed in an imaginative, unique and sometimes poetic way. If it is imaginative and unique, any attempt to reduce the teaching of creative writing to a system or set of formulas, with prescribed techniques and practices should be avoided.

2. It is important to establish a creative environment, be it a beautiful garden, a book or library corner, or a circle of chairs in the classroom, where ideas and thoughts are expressed freely and where students learn that collaboration is better than isolation. They will feel comfortable and motivated to explore their own writing, and so will discover their strengths and weaknesses.

3. As for teachers, an understanding of the characteristics of effective writing and the strategies used by successful writers is not enough. The creative writing teacher should be a constant investigator of the learners’ creativity, and also use their experience as writers, as a basis for creating new practices and activities and face the challenges that teaching creative writing involves.


Campos, Augusto de. (1994). Despoesia. São Paulo, Editora Perspectiva.

Dunn, Christopher. (2001) Brutality Garden: Tropicália and the Emergence of a Brazilian Counterculture. Chapel Hill, U of North Carolina.

Richards, Jack C. (1999). The Language Teaching Matrix. (7th ed.). Cambridge University Press.


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