The Write Way

July 1, 2014

Mabindra Regmi

When I graduated from my high school, I thought I was a great writer. I had written for countless assignments and examinations. I had written poems and stories. I had scored relatively high marks in English during my high school final examination. How could I not be a writer? It was a bitter shock when reality crashed in and I had to redefine my so called ‘expertise’ in writing when I faced the challenge of writing a proposal for an educational endeavor. I spent many a night poring over the proposal and scribbling on a piece of paper in that pre-ubiquitous-computer era to keep my inflated writing ego alive.

When I look back in retrospect after what seems like eons, and teaching writing to students for over a decade, a few questions arise. Why did I feel that I was ‘good’ at writing when I apparently wasn’t? What were the factors that I had missed altogether to write well? What were the strategies that I had to adopt in order to enhance my writing skills? And what it takes to create your niche in the world of writing- specifically academic writing?

I would like to address the first question regarding why I wasn’t a good writer. The premise to this would be that the writing that I had been exposed to at school was entirely different from the world of academic writing. I had goaded myself to believe that just by getting my grammar correct and by using some fancy words interlaced with ‘impressive’ looking, torturously long recursive sentences, I was good in writing. The praises of my school teachers for writing, what I believe now to be just childish philosophical ramblings that I used to call poetry, did not matter in the real world. I was expected to get results through my writing skills. For example, the very first draft that I submitted for the proposal mentioned above brought cynical remarks and questioned my very proficiency of English language.

This brings us to the second question regarding necessary factors for writing well. The reality is that in order to impress the academic world, writing is more like ‘mathematics’. There is the central idea expressed in the topic sentence. Then the main points have to elegantly support the central idea. Further, clarifications and exemplifications have to be integrated to get the main idea across.And all these are cohesively bound together with connecting devices. Each part added to create the central whole. The structural unity of paragraph writing was something I had to acquire the hard way amidst ridicule and cynicism. This realization introduced me to a whole different game of writing academically.

The word was out that I could be counted on to write and edit works in English. First, my close friends started requesting me to edit their application essays. Then I was logically burdened with the responsibility of editing school magazines at work. Whenever someone had a difficulty in structure or vocabulary, I was the person to ask. It escalated to more professional level when I started receiving requests to write proposals for non-government organizations. My journey into the world of writing was enhanced by these responsibilities I was given, and alternatingly it provided me the impetus to work hard and to come up with polished products that would assist the organisations to achieve their institutional goals. I think it important to believe that you have the skill and the tenacity to perform at a higher level than you actually can. It provides necessary drive to move you forward- keep you on the edge. As I reflect on this journey, I am sure I would not have come this far had I shied awayfrom the trust that my colleagues and acquaintances bestowed upon me. As in any field, it is necessary to accept challenges and strive to excel in the realm of writing as well.

To address the final question regarding creating a niche of your own, it is imperative that you consistently update yourself and the social connections that you have. There are multifarious means that can be adopted for professional growth. The magic word here is collaboration. Without collaboration with peers, it will be difficult to enhance your professional skills in writing and to create a space of your own in the field. Professional networks provide unique opportunities to showcase your skills and to disseminate the knowledge that you have gained. In addition, professional get-togethers provide opportunities for interaction and networking. Another keyword that one should remember in the professional world is ‘sharing’. Writing is a skill that is visible only when you actually write. As I gained more proficiency as a writer of academic texts, I started sharing it to my peers through workshops and seminars. NeltaChoutari can be very effective platform to share your ideas. As I write for this webzine now, I believe this will further enhance my own skills through the act of sharing.

As I wrap up this short personal reflection on my journey in the field of academic writing, I would like to reiterate the main ideas once again. No matter how good you think you are in writing, there is always place for improvement. Since there are many different types of writing, gaining proficiency in any one of them requires constant effort. Moreover, it is through collaborative effort and sharing that one can truly build a niche within the professional circle. Skill enhancement is a constant effort, and as Steve Jobs stated, it is important to ‘stay hungry and stay foolish’ in order to attain and retain proficiency in the field of academic writing.

Mabindra Regmi

M.Phil. English Language Education
Kathmandu University
Email: mabindra@gmail.com

 

 


Reflection on ‘Behind Academic Publishing-Why, How & What’

July 1, 2014

Krishna Prasad Khatiwada

‘Get your name registered!’… I excitedly followed the post on the timeline of NeltaChoutari, after I came to learn that Mr. Bal Krishna Sharma was the facilitator of the workshop titled Behind Academic Publishing: Why, How and What. I find the workshop as a crucial step forward for an aspiring writer like me to know more about how to write academic journal articles and get them published. Upon signing up for the registration, I made a call to Umes, one of NeltaChoutari editors, prior to the scheduled workshop to confirm my participation. Finally, I participated in the three-hour workshop which I believe paved a way toward academic writing and publishing with the knowledge and styles that the facilitator shared with us during the session.

Academic writing and publishing plays a vital role in pursuing our higher studies. Everyone’s shoes pinches when they sit for writing something, especially starting with what we have thought of and writing the thought in a coherent way. Writers are not born, but made. What those who are already writers or who aspire to become writers do is; they encompass a writing process, that includes some stages such as jotting down the ideas, making mental picture of what we are supposed to write, bubbling the ideas around the theme, organizing them, write, re-write, review, re-review, and final write up. In this reflective blog post, I try to recapitulate the workshop with my own experience of writing aligning with why, where and what to write.

Writing and research are the integral part of facilitating our success in academia. Until we demonstrate who we are with our writing, our knowledge seems like a beautiful flower having no scent, unrecognized, undecorated and unvalued. To be more specific, although writing and publishing is an integral part of the higher studies, many scholars are not found engaging in such an activity. In the wake of such scenario, I believe the workshop organized by Choutari team was so fruitful for over thirty passionate scholars who participated in order to rigorously engage in academic writing and publishing.

The session started with the statement, ‘It is too late to dig a well when your house is on fire’, meaning that, it will be too late to start writing and publishing when one thinks of applying for the M. Phil or Ph.D. abroad. So, let’s start writing for the purpose of, name and fame, eligibility for pursuing our higher studies, sharing our expertise and contributing in a larger society, and also for our passion. Until we do not start writing and publishing, what worth we write, we do not know who we are. Forget about the rest of the world who are unknown to us, and let’s write to make us known to the world.

Looking back to few of my academic papers, they have been well written and the problem what I always faced is publishing them. Hence, once writing task is over, many of novice writers wonder where to get it published. We cannot deny the fact that scholarly writing contribute to the larger society and the field they are aligned with. However, such a contribution is not worthwhile until they are disseminated through publication. No worries for where to get them published; why not to start with our own weblog, local journals and other publication venues like NeltaChoutari, Journal of NELTA, and Journal of Nepalese Linguistics. They can be the better options for novice writers to write and get published locally or nationally. Even beyond the boundary, one can publish in Asian EFL Journal, Indian Journal of Applied Linguistics, Korean Journal of Applied Linguistics, JALT, and other regional journals. Based on publication experience in domestic and regional journals, the novice scholars in ELT can easily get their work published in the world renowned TESOL Quarterly, Applied Linguistics, Modern Language Journal, Studies in SLA, Language Learning, Journal of Sociolinguistics, etc. Local and national newspapers, magazines can also be the venues to get one’s writing published for the wider readership.

Let’s talk about what to write, and how to we make our writing worth publishing. We can start publishing our academic articles, may be, the term paper, if worth, to the local journals. It gives us a lot of feedback for polishing our writing. The publication may be of data-based empirical articles, conceptual and theoretical proposals, reflections and anecdotes, commentaries of field related survey, book reviews, software reviews, article reviews, and responses to the articles. The data-based empirical articles are the highly prioritized for of the best manuscripts of publishing. And it is recommended that they are to be specific format according to the need of the publishers’ guidelines.

The major part of the academic writing is giving credit to previous knowledge creators. Addressing, taking, assimilating or confronting with their ideas need rigorous reading process and we need to plan carefully for making our writing an established one. The concept of academic theft or plagiarism was highly brought to a live discussion among participants during of the workshop.
These acts of academic dishonesty, or theft, or plagiarism include: representing the words or ideas of someone else as one’s own without giving credit to the author; cheating: getting credit by deceptive means; fabrication: making up information; falsification: altering information/records; multiple submissions: using the same work to receive multiple instances of credit. These sorts of plagiarism are very common to us, knowingly or unknowingly we plagiarize other’s is which is an academic crime. Our reluctances, lassitude habit, lack of time for the submission of the work, language deficiencies, cultural differences and lack of knowledge about what is plagiarism and how it is held are some of the reasons for committing this crime. Sometimes, without knowing what would be the consequences, we plagiarize, resulting defaming our name, being expelled from the universities, rejection from the job, publication and grant. So, it is highly prioritized area in academia to be conscious about giving and taking credit to the sources we work on. These focuses of Mr Bal Krishna Sharma has given me a view the world of academic writing consolidating the ideas with the plagiarism.

Finally, the workshop, a highly participatory one, has given us the fine particles of ingredients in writing and publishing academic journal articles. The only thing we need to do is to make the ingredients mix up with the established knowledge we have with and develop reader friendly write up. This not only makes our writing a sharper and stronger but also contributes us in our professional development. I believe, we are in the process of getting eternity through our write up and the only thing we need to do is ‘start with a good heed’. Let’s write with passion. Happy Writing!
krishna

Krishna Khatiwada

Krishk.2007@gmail.com
http://academicskrish.blogspot.com/


Creative Writing for Students and Teachers: Some Practical Ideas

October 1, 2013

 Alan Maley

UK

 

Writing creatively is a joyful component of learning a language in real life. Creativity, as creative writers have tasted, adds flavor to writing. Many more language teachers might have a rigid mindset because of having had to be bound to the framework provided by syllabi, textbooks, exams, etc. Anyway, they can be hopeful for the change they really wish by introducing at least some elements of creativity in their teaching.

 

There are a number of general points which will help make implementing creative writing activities more likely to succeed:

Try to establish a relaxed, non-judgmental atmosphere, where your students feel confident enough to let go and not to worry that their every move is being scrutinized for errors.

Ensure that the students’ work is ‘published’ in some way. This could be by simply keeping a large notice-board for displaying the students’ work. Other ways would include giving students a project for publishing work in a simple ring binder, or as part of a class magazine. Almost certainly, there will be students able and willing to set up a class website where work can be published. Performances, where students read or perform their work for other classes or even the whole school, are another way of making public what they have done.

Encourage students to discuss their work together in a frank but friendly manner. We get good ideas by bouncing them off other people. Help them establish an atmosphere where criticism is possible without causing offence.

Explain regularly how important accurate observation is, and encourage ‘noticing’ things. They also need to be encouraged to be curious and to follow up with ‘research’ – looking for more information, whether in books, on the Internet or by asking people.

Make it clear that what they do in the classroom is only the tip of the iceberg. To get real benefit from these activities, they need to do a lot of work outside class hours. Most of what we learn, we do not learn in class. You can capitalize on that fact.

Do the activities regularly in order to get the best effects. Maybe once a week is a sensible frequency. If you leave too long between sessions, you have to keep going back to square one. That is a waste of time and energy.

The following are simply a sample of some possible activities:

Hello/Goodbye poems

  1. Tell the class that they are going to write a poem. It will have only two lines, and each line will have just two words. The first line will start with ‘Hello’, the second with ‘Goodbye’.
  2. Give students one or two examples:

 

Hello sunshine,

Goodbye rain.

 

Hello smoking,

Goodbye health.

 

Hello paper,

Goodbye trees.

 

Then, ask if they can think of any new ones. Note them on the board.

  1. Ask students to work in pairs (or alone if they prefer), and try to come up with at least two new poems. Allow 10 minutes for this task.

 

  1. Ask for their examples and put them on the board. Ask students to give feedback on each other’s examples.

 

  1. Collect all the poems. Display them on the class notice-board or upload them onto the class/school website.

The activity is very simple yet it does require students to call on their vocabulary store and to think about words that have a mutual or reciprocal relationship of meanings (smoking/health etc.) If you prefer, this can be used as a short warm-up for other activities.

Stem poems

  1. Explain to students that they will be writing some lines that will fit together into a poem. Then, write up the stem you intend to use. For example: I wish I could…

Elaborate further by eliciting samples of completed sentences, as in these examples:

I wish I could have an ice cream.

 I wish I could speak French.

 I wish I could visit Australia.

 

Then, ask each student to write three sentences following the same pattern.

  1. After about 10 minutes, ask students to work in groups of four and to share their sentences. They should choose six sentences that they think are most interesting and then decide what order to put them in to form a 6-line poem. There is no need for the poems to rhyme but if they do, fine. Lastly, tell them to add one final line, which is: But I can’t.
  2. Ask groups to read their poems aloud to the class. Can they suggest any ways to improve the poems?
  3. Collect all the poems. Display them on the class noticeboard or upload them onto the class/school website.
  4. You can decide on other stems to use in subsequent classes. For example:

 

Loneliness is…

 I used to… but now…

 I love the way…

 Nobody knows…

 Who knows…?

 I don’t know why…

 

It would be a good idea to choose stems that give practice in language points you are working on with the class at that time.

Acrostics

An acrostic poem is based on a word written vertically. The letters then each form the first letter of a word, and all the words are related to the meaning of the original word. For example:

Docile

Obedient

Growling

 

  1. Explain what an acrostic is and write up one or two examples on the board. Then, ask them to write an acrostic based on their own name or the name of someone they know well. The words they choose should somehow describe the person. For example, Vuthy:

 

 V Very

 U Unlikely

 T To

 H Help

 Y You

  1. Collect all the poems. Display them on the class notice-board or upload them onto the class/school website.
  2. Ask students to write at least one more acrostic before the next class. This time, they can choose any word they like (it doesn’t have to be someone’s name). For example:

 

Lying

Everywhere –

Autumn

Falling.

 

Acrostics involve a kind of mental gymnastics that engages students in reactivating their vocabulary in an unusual way. Acrostics do not usually produce great poetry but they certainly exercise the linguistic imagination.

Acknowledgement: Some of the ideas were developed by Tan Bee Tin.

If you were …

  1. First you make copies of this outline:

If I were a fruit, I would be ….

 If I were a vegetable, I would be…

 If I were a tree, I would be…

 If I were a flower, I would be…

 If I were a fish, I would be…

 If I were a bird, I would be…

 If I were a book, I would be…

 If I were a song, I would be…

 If I were the weather, I would be…

 If I were a season, I would be…

 

Then distribute the sheets that you have prepared. Ask students to work individually for about 10 minutes, completing the outline of the poem with words they prefer. For example: If I were a fruit, I would be a grape.

  1. Let students share what they have written in groups of four. Then conduct a class discussion and go through the poems line-by-line, asking for examples of what they have written.

 

  1. Ask students to think of someone they like and to write the person’s name as the title of their poem. They then write a 12-line poem addressed to that person using the following format:

Line 1: describe the person as a kind of food.

Line 2: describe the person as weather

Line 3: describe the person as a tree

Line 4: describe the person as a time of day

Line 5: describe the person as some kind of transport

Line 6: describe the person as an article of clothing

Line 7: describe the person as part of a house

Line 8: describe the person as a flower

Line 9: describe the person as a kind of music/a sound

Line 10: describe the person as something to do with colour

Line 11: describe the person as an animal

The last line should be the same for everyone: ‘You are my friend’.

So, their poem would look something like this:

 

For Sharifa

You are mango ice-cream

You are a cool breeze on a hot day

You are a shady coconut palm

You are dawn

You are a sailing boat crossing the bay

You are my comfortable sandals

You are the sunny verandah

 You are jasmine

 You are a soft gamelan

 You are light blue

 You are a playful kitten

 You are my friend.

 

Metaphor poems

  1. Make copies of this list of words and phrases for use during the class:

Love an egg Hate a tooth brush Disappointment a vacuum cleaner Marriage a spoon Friendship a knife Hope a mirror Life a window Work a cup Time a banana

  1. Check that students know what a metaphor is – a form of direct comparison between two things. Give examples of metaphors in everyday life:

 

  • A blade of grass
  • A sharp frost
  • Spending time
  • Save time
  • Opening up a can of worms
  • She’s a snake in the grass
  • He clammed up
  • He shelled out
  • A wall of silence

In fact, everyday language is so full of metaphorical expressions that we hardly notice them. They have become an accepted way of speaking. Explain that poets make great use of metaphor to make their words more vivid and easier to visualise.

  1. Hand out the sheets. Tell students to write three metaphors by combining one item on the left with another on the right (students will have to join the words using ‘is’). They should not spend time thinking about the combinations. For example:
  • Life is a window.
  • Friendship is a knife.
  • Love is a vacuum cleaner.
  • Marriage is a banana
  • Hate is a mirror.

 

  1. Now, ask them to choose just one of their new metaphors. They should now write two more lines after the metaphor to explain what it means. For example:

Marriage is a banana:

 when you’ve eaten the fruit,

 only the skin is left.

 

 Hate is a mirror:

 it reflects back

 on the one who hates.

 

Tell students not to use ‘because’ as it is unnecessary, and to keep the lines short.

  1. Ask students to share their metaphor poems with the class. Students should then make an illustrated display of their work. Acknowledgement: This idea is adapted from Jane Spiro’s brilliant book, Creative Poetry Writing (OUP)

Now we can have a good start to enjoy learning some ‘real’ language.  Creative writing promotes self-motivation and makes language teaching and learning effortless. You are always curious to find out something and encounter new things and learn them willingly. How interesting this can be! Good luck and happy writing!


Motivation Through Writing

October 1, 2013

Myrtis (Doucey) Mixon, Ed. D.

University of San Francisco

 

How can we motivate our students to be excited about their classes? One way is to tell them stories. Another way is to ask them to write stories.

 

Stories educate, enrich, and entertain everyone.  Find easy stories in English.  But for now, I will whet your appetite by sending you two of the stories that will be published in the forthcoming book of stories called “Untold Tales” written  by English ACCESS Microscholarship Students in Nepal, These are the stories that they wrote at the winter camp in 2013 in Pokhara.

 

These anecdotes and tales of exprience provide an enjoyable opportunity to increase vocabulary, reading comprehension, listening and speaking and, ultimately, writing. The stories and exercises together are a whole-language anthology designed to improve communication skills. These stories include exercises that employ the cooperative/collaborative learning philosophy and address multiple learning styles.

 

Using stories is a magical way to teach, effective at any age.  Here’s a summary of how stories aid language-learning:

  • provide motivation for reading
  • heighten listening skills
  • develop speaking skills
  • use cooperative learning strategies
  • foster creative language growth
  • provide content-based material
  • Serve as model for further writing

All learners, from babies to grandmothers, learn better with stories; they are energizers. Integrating stories as an adjunct to the teacher’s repertoire in the classroom setting is not only simple, but makes perfect sense.  We hope you use these stories to open new worlds of content and learning possibilities.  We also hope they serve as a springboard to motivating your own students to write stories.

 

Enjoy the stories. If you want some more, write to me at “myrtis101@mac.com” and I will send you more. These two are from Kathmandu and Gorkha, but I have many  others, some from Butwal and Birgunj.

 

My Story

 

One early morning, on my way to temple, I saw sparkling eyes in ragged clothes.  I saw their creative hands and bright smiles.  These children are strangers to me but no different from our own children whom we always love and support.

 

Two days later, I visited the prison of Sundhara, Kathmandu, for my class in social work.  I saw many such faces who reside in prisons alongside their incarcerated parents and I became sad.  These children have done nothing wrong.  They are simply caught up in something they don’t understand.

 

I couldn’t forget them so a few months later, along with some friends, we opened up a child daycare centre in a rented house.  My parents were not happy and they told me to leave it.  However, I was determined to take those children out of prison and look after them and educate them for the future.

 

When I started this, I was 21, and nobody believed in me.  People thought I was crazy.  They laughed at me.

 

After two years, in 2005, I established The Butterfly Home for the children.  Then, I travelled to many other places, speaking with jailers, parents and authorities, preparing to bring children out of prison.  My own parents now understood and helped me.  We were so touched by the children’s plight, that they are forced to live with their impoverished, incarcerated parents because there is no one to look after them on the outside.

 

It has been eight years since I began gathering the children from Nepali prisons and bringing them to live in a centre in the capital, Kathmandu, providing them not only with food and shelter, but also education and motherly love.  I am happy to be recognized as their mamu.  Now I have become the second Nepali woman to win the 2012 CNN Hero Award at the star-studded award ceremony held in Los Angeles.  But still 80 children are living in prison and I am going to take them out of the prison soon.

 

My name is Puspa Basnet and children are my hope.  I believe the world is their place where they can carve their future with their own hands.

Prashanna Mahat, 15

Kathmandu

 

Exercises

Understanding the Story

How did Puspa Basnet get involved with helping the children?

 

Vocabulary

sparkling    reside    incarcerated         determined   plight    impoverished  carved

1. The stars were ______________________________________________ in the sky.

2. The children’s parents  are __________________________________ in the prisons.

3. The children have nowhere to ____________________________ out of the prisons.

4. Puspa Basnet was _______________________ to get the children out of the prisons.

5. Many people were affected by the ______________________ of these poor children.

6. To make something out of something can be to ____________________________ it.

7. The parents in the prison have no money; they are __________________________ .

 

Now you Talk

1. What would it be like to be one of those children living in the prison?

2. Where do they go to school?

3. Is there a way you could help these children?

 

Now you Create

1. Write a letter to the mayor of your town asking for help.

2. Draw a cartoon strip about this problem.

 

Role Play

1. Mother in prison, her son: talking about his going to school.

2. That son, another student: talking about where he lives.

3. Two Girls who live with parents in prison: talking about their lives.

4. Two guards in prison: planning to help the children

5. Puspa Basnet, mayor of town: talking about helping more children.

 

 

 

The Kidnappers

 

This is a true story that happened in Dada Gaun village near Laxmi bazaar in 2012.

 

One Saturday, Rina and Rehan, a brother and sister asked their  parents if they could go to the park.  Their parents said, “Please, go safely.  There are so many bad people in the road.”

 

Rina said, “Don’t worry.  We will be careful.”  They crossed one town where many busses went here and there.  They went to the park.  While they were walking on the road, a micro bus stopped just beside them.  The door opened and a man jumped out, grabbed them both and put them in the micro bus.

 

They were taken to the jungle which is near the park.  They were so afraid and they cried a lot.  Many hours went by.  The kidnapper went near Rina and laughed. Rina asked, “Why are you laughing?”

 

The kidnapper said, “You are my one corore rupees.  That is the ransom we will get from your parents.  Give me your phone number.  But Rina didn’t give it to him.  He slapped her and said, “If you don’t give me your father’s phone number, I will kill you right now.”

 

Rina was afraid of him and gave the number.  Meanwhile, the children’s parents were worried when they didn’t come home by evening time.  Then their mobile phone rang.  The kidnapper demanded one corore rupees as a ransom.  The kidnapper said to him, “If you don’t give me the ransom money, you will see your children’s dead bodies.”

Hearing this, the father became more afraid.  Then the father thought of a trick.  “Where are you?”  asked Rina’s father.  The kidnapper said, “I am in the jungle near the park.”

 

While the father kept talking to the kidnapper, the mother called the police station and said,  “Please save my children.  They have been kidnapped.  They are in the jungle near the park.  The kidnapper demands one corore rupees as ransom.  I don’t have even thousands.”

 

The police hurried and drove very quickly.  They stopped the car in the park and walked into the jungle.  They surrounded the microbus and caught the kidnapper.  The children were saved.

 

Their parents gave many thanks to the police.  They told the police not to let the kidnapper free because if he is free he would kidnap other children.  After that he was put into the jail for his whole life.

 

Kasam Ale,  15

Gorkha

 

Exercises

Understanding the Story

What is a moral for this story?

 

Vocabulary

Fill in the blanks of the summary with the words below.

ransom     surrounded      kidnappers     tricked

microbus     worried      careful      grabbed

 

The children wanted to go to the park.  Their parents were __________________ They said, “Be very _________________ .  While the children were walking, a _________________ stopped and a man jumped out and _______________________ them.  The men were __________________________.  They demanded  a _____________________ .  The father ________________  the bad men.  The police ____________ the kidnappers.

 

Now You Talk

1. What would you do if a kidnapper grabbed you?

2. How can you solve a crime with a mobile phone?

 

Now You Create

1. Draw a picture of the kidnappers.

2. Write another ending to this story.

 

Role Play:

1. Mother, girl: warning about bad people.

2. Girl, kidnapper: he asks for her phone number.

3. Sister, brother: planning how to get away from kidnappers

4. Father, police: planning to catch kidnappers.

5. Mother, girl: talking about their capture.


English Language Teaching and Larger Pursuits of Life

October 1, 2013

Indra Bahadur Ter

Far Western Development Region, Nepal

For decades we have been teaching the English language primarily as an end in itself. The question whether English should be taught as an end in itself or as a means to achieving larger pursuits of life has been a matter of constant debate among ELT scholars, language experts and language theorists. Equally mighty question is whether larger pursuits can be achieved only after gaining a proficient command of the English language, or any other language for that matter, or, the desired proficiency comes only after we engage in larger pursuits of life.

By larger pursuits of life I mean all those creative sorts of activities that demand either field-specific professional excellence or that bring happiness to our lives with a sense of well-being or euphoria which I take art and literature for preciseness. The latter sort of pursuits become imminent from the very idea that the chief end of everybody life is the pursuit of happiness. Undeniably, this type of happiness derives from self-actualization, the highest level of need in Maslow’s hierarchy, and art and literature are the best ways towards self-actualization.  In this article I shall attempt to establish a relationship between language command and these larger pursuits of life with special reference to the English language.

Field-specific professional excellence

In the past English was taught solely as a language of communication and was by and large used as a means of communicating with the world community, and its secondary application was for literary activities. However, within the last two decades, the world has undergone a vast transformation with its explosion of knowledge and English has pervaded our life and culture. The world has been anglicized, so to speak, and new types of professional needs have emerged. Now, the scope of the English language has broadened. In this changed context an ESL/ EFL teacher has now not only to deal with English and its grammar, linguistics, ELT but also there are a number of disciplines like philosophy, literature, anthropology, psychology, mass communication, journalism, and above all those registers of English that are used in an indeterminately large number of fields and situations, that most often pass over the heads of a majority of English teachers.  As a side note, English teachers need  to acquaint themselves with all those varieties of English used in different English speaking communities and different professional contexts so they can help their students deal with world realities in relation to English use.

English for Specific Purposes: English for Specific Purposes (ESP) is the English for professional needs of learners and requires field-specific knowledge of English. Why ESP? This question should be clear from the following anecdotes from my own life.

I had just passed Master’s in English when my spouse complained of abdomen pain during her last months of pregnancy and we visited a doctor, who noticing my flaunting of English, replied in English. He used medical register: “She has a minor cervical fissure. Miscarriage might result if we don’t resort to caesarian.” I didn’t have the faintest idea of what he said but I just uttered a faint “Yes”. So deplorably I wished I could have a dictionary handy then.

At another time I was invited to write a bank guarantee for an organization for a loan that would be sanctioned to the organization on their written request along with the collateral. I spent the whole day trying and re-trying and ended up with what looked like an abstract literature. Ah, it was a horrible experience.

As a matter of fact, some of us might aspire to write a proposal for an organization that might bring up ludicrous incomes to us; some of us might aspire to write an influential article for a newspaper, a film script, a dissertation, a legal document, an advert, or a book, for that matter. But our own English comes as a barrier when we proceed. We lack the knowledge and skills of field-specific register of English. In a world where knowledge is a measure of power and where English sells as a commodity, why can’t we sell our knowledge of English? Why in certain vacancy announcements where sound knowledge of English is a must, preference is given to other disciplines rather than English? Rarely have English language graduates got the posts like manager, project coordinator, executive officer, proposal writer, and the likes solely on the basis of their English skills. Why can’t we sell our English skills in larger world markets? It may be perhaps because we don’t study/ teach field-specific professional English that can in technical terms be called ESP. Certainly ESP is a lot different from General English.

So what? Teaching the English language as merely an end in itself is not the demand of time. The demand of the hour is teaching need-based English. For this, whole the programmes and curricula of English right from beginners’ level have to be re-looked and revised.

English for art and literature: a euphoric pursuit

After so much reading of the English language, grammar, linguistics, research articles, critical theories, newspapers, journals and so on and so forth, we should be prepared to create something of worth for the real world audience – a poem, a piece of fiction, an essay, a travelogue, or a book worth reading. Well, yes, we do really well when our audience is our students but our ability starts to answer when our audience is the literati from the world community. Many of us might even fail to interpret and appreciate a piece of art or literature written in the current trend, for we are still reading/writing structured literature of the romantic age and modern age. Facing postmodern literature is a challenge for us. If we cannot read and enjoy art and literature, we have no right to call ourselves connoisseurs of art and literature. Reading, appreciating and creating art and literature to cultivate a sense of well-being or euphoria is what I mean by “euphoric pursuit”. Art and literature are something that make our life meaningful and worth living, and there is no gainsaying the fact that these entities are the stairs that lift us towards self-realization and self-actualization. These pursuits should be at high end of ELT/ ELD.

However, the way we teach literature in English classes is no way better than spoon feeding – mere discussing the gist or summary of the literary text, dictating the summary or a stereotypical summary to them and getting them to learn the end-of-the-text question answers, which WILL only blunt their creative potentialities rather than sharpen them. When shall we encourage our students to read, interact with and appreciate the literary texts, making out their own enquiries into the text to distill their own interpretations of the text, and generate their own critical thinking and creative writing?


Creative Writing for Students and Teachers

April 1, 2013

Alan Maley

U.K.

Why is it that most institutional systems of education develop such narrow and unadventurous teaching procedures?  How is it that joyful learning somehow gets overwhelmed by institutional rituals: the worship of the syllabus, the obsession with ‘covering’ the textbook, the manic preoccupation with the exam, the compulsion to conform?  It seems that only in rare cases, through the determination of individual teachers, is joyful learning achieved.  In most other cases, the language is reduced to drumming in material as if it were a set of mathematical formulae in preparation for the exam, after which it can safely be discarded.  Small wonder that many students simply switch off  and develop a lifelong aversion to the language in question.  What they learn is neither enjoyable nor perceived as useful in the ‘real’ world outside the classroom.

This applies to much English language teaching too: all too often, it lacks a creative spark.  John McRae goes so far as to say,

“In future years, the absence of imaginative content in language teaching will be considered to have marked a primitive stage of the discipline: the use of purely referential materials limits the learner’s imaginative involvement with the target language, and leads to a one-dimensional learning achievement.  Representational materials make an appeal to the learner’s imagination…”  (McRae 1991:vii)

In this article I shall be arguing for the need to develop more creative approaches to writing as a way of enriching the learning experiences of both teachers and learners.

 

What is Creative Writing?

Creative writing is often contrasted with Expository writing.  I have summarized the principle differences between them in the following table:

   Expository Writing   Creative Writing

 

     Instrumental

 

     Facts

 

     External control

 

     Conventions

 

     Logical

 

     Analytical

 

     Impersonal

 

     Thinking mode

 

    Appeal to the intellect

 

    Avoidance of ambiguity

 

    Aesthetic

 

    Imagination

 

    Internal discipline

 

    Stretching rules

 

    Intuitive

 

    Associative

 

    Personal

 

    Feeling mode (plus thinking!)

 

    Appeal to the senses

 

    Creation of multiple meanings

When writing an expository text we are essentially instrumentally motivated. We have a quantum of facts, ideas and opinions to put across.  Expository writing rests on a framework of externally imposed rules and conventions.  These range from grammatical and lexical accuracy and appropriacy to specific genre constraints.  The aim of expository writing is to be logical, consistent and impersonal and to convey the content as unambiguously as possible to the reader.

Creative writing, by contrast, is aesthetically motivated.  It deals less in facts than in the imaginative representation of emotions, events, characters and experience.  Contrary to what many believe, creative writing is not about license.  It is a highly disciplined activity.  But the discipline is self-imposed: ‘the fascination of what’s difficult’ (Yeats).  In this it stands in contrast to expository writing, which imposes constraints from without.  It often proceeds by stretching the rules of the language to breaking point, testing how far it can go before the language breaks down under the strain of innovation.  Creative writing is a personal activity, involving feeling. This is not to say that thought is absent – far from it.  The ingenuity of a plot, or the intricate structure of a poem are not the products of an unthinking mind: they require a unique combination of thought and feeling – part of what Donald Davie (1994) calls ‘articulate energy.’  An important quality of creative writing however is the way it can evoke sensations.  And, unlike expository writing, it can be read on many different levels and is open to multiple interpretations.

The Case for Creative Writing.

 

It is reasonable to ask however, how we can justify the inclusion of creative writing, in addition to aesthetic reading, in our language teaching practices.  A recent small-scale survey (unpublished data) I conducted among some 50 leading ELT professionals, especially teachers of writing, yielded the following reasons:

1.  Creative writing aids language development at all levels: grammar, vocabulary, phonology and discourse. As learners manipulate the language in interesting and demanding ways, attempting to express uniquely personal meanings (as they do in creative writing), they necessarily engage with the language at a deeper level of processing than with expository texts (Craik and Lockhart 1972).  The gains in grammatical accuracy,  appropriacy and originality of lexical choice, and sensitivity to rhythm, rhyme, stress and intonation are significant.

2. Creative writing also fosters ‘playfulness’.  In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in the role of play in language acquisition. (Cook 2000, Crystal 1998)  In some ways the ‘communicative movement’ has done a disservice to language teaching by its insistence on the exclusively communicative role played by language.  The proponents of play point out, rightly, that in L1 acquisition, much of the language used by children is almost exclusively concerned with play: rhythmical chants and rhymes, word games, jokes and the like.  Furthermore, such playfulness survives into adulthood, so that many social encounters are characterized by language play (puns, jokes, ‘funny voices’, metathesis, and so on) rather than by the direct communication of messages. In creative writing, learners are encouraged to do precisely this: to play creatively with the language in a guilt-free environment.  As Crystal states, ‘Reading and writing do not have to be a prison house.  Release is possible.  And maybe language play can provide the key.’ (Crystal 1998:217)

3. This playful element encourages learners to take risks with the language, to explore it without fear of reproof.  By manipulating the language in this way, they also begin to discover things not only about the language but about themselves.  They effectively begin to develop a ‘second language personality’.

4.  Much of the teaching we do draws and focuses on the left side of the brain, where our logical faculties are said to reside.  Creative writing puts the emphasis on the right side of the brain, with a focus on feelings, physical sensations, intuition, and the like.  This is a healthy restoration of balance between the logical and the intuitive faculties.  It also allows scope for learners whose hemisphere preference or dominance may not be left-brain, and who, in the usual course of teaching, are therefore at a disadvantage.

5.  The dramatic increase in self-confidence and self-esteem which creative writing tends to develop among learners leads to a corresponding increase in motivation.  Dornyei (2001), among others, has pointed to evidence that suggests that among the key  conditions for promoting motivation are:

‘5. Create a pleasant and supportive atmosphere in the classroom

6.  Promote the development of group cohesiveness.

13. Increase the students’ expectancy of success in particular tasks and in learning in

general.

17. Make learning more stimulating and enjoyable by breaking the monotony of

classroom events.

18. Make learning stimulating and enjoyable for the learner by increasing the

attractiveness of tasks.

19. Make learning stimulating and enjoyable for the learners by enlisting them as active

task participants.

20. Present and administer tasks in a motivating way.

23. Provide students with regular experiences of success.

24. Build your learners’ confidence by providing regular encouragement.

28. Increase student motivation by promoting cooperation among the learners.

29. Increase student motivation by actively promoting learner autonomy.

33. Increase learner satisfaction.

34. Offer rewards in a motivational manner.’(Dornyei 2001: 138-144)

All these conditions are met in a well-run creative writing class.  This increase in motivation is certainly supported by my own experience in teaching creative writing.  Learners suddenly realize that they can write something in the foreign language which no one else has ever written before.  And they experience not only a pride in their own products but a joy in the process.

6. Creative writing also feeds into more creative reading.  It is as if, by getting inside the process of creating the text, learners come to intuitively understand how such texts work, and this makes them easier to read.  Likewise, the development of aesthetic reading skills provides the learner with a better understanding of textual construction, and this feeds into their writing.  There is only one thing better than reading a lot for developing writing ~ and that is writing a lot too!

7. Finally, the respondents to the questionnaire survey were almost unanimous in agreeing that creative writing helps to improve expository writing too. In fact, by helping learners to develop an individual voice, it makes their factual writing more genuinely expressive.

All of the above factors were mentioned by the respondents to the questionnaire.  Respondents noted that students who become engaged in CW tasks demonstrate a robust sense of self-esteem and are consequently better motivated (Dornyei 2001).  They also become more aware both of the language and of themselves as learners. The virtuous cycle of success breeding more success is evident with such students.  As they become more self-confident, so they are prepared to invest more of themselves in these creative writing tasks.  Above all, students derive not just ‘fun’ but a deeper sense of enjoyment from their writing.

References

Arnold, Jane.  (1999).  Affect in Language Learning.  Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press.

Boden, Margaret.  (1998)  The Creative Mind.  London: Abacus.

Carter, Ronald.  (2004)  Language and Creativity: the art of common talk.  London: Routledge.

Cook, Guy.  (2000)  Language Play: Language Learning.  Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press.

Craik, F.I.M. and R.S. Lockhart (1972)  ‘Levels of processing: a framework for memory research.’  Journal for verbal learning and Verbal Behaviour II: 617-84.

Crystal, David. (1998)  Language Play.  London: Penguin.

Davie, Donald (1994)  Purity of Diction in English Verse and Articulate Energy.  London: Carcanet.

Day, Richard and Julian Bamford.  (1998)  Extensive Reading in the Second Language Classroom.  Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press

Dornyei ,Zoltan  (2001) Motivational Strategies in the Language Classroom.  Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press.

Gardner,  Howard. (1985)  Frames of Mind.  London: Paladin Books

Gleick, James. (1988)  Chaos.  London: Sphere Books

Koch, Kenneth. (1990) Rose, where did you get that red?  New York: Vintage Books.

Krashen, Stephen  (2004 second edition) The Power of Reading.  PortsmouthNH: Heinemann

Maley, Alan (ed) (2007 a)) Asian Short Stories for Young Readers.  Vol. 4.  Petaling Jaya: Pearson/Longman Malaysia

Maley, Alan (ed)  (2007 b))  Asian Poems for Young Readers. Vol.5. Petaling Jaya:Pearson/Longman Malaysia.

Maley, Alan and Jayakaran Mukundan.  (eds) (2005 a))  Asian Stories for Young Readers, Vol 1   Petaling Jaya: Pearson/Longman Malaysia.

Maley, Alan and Jayakaran Mukundan  (eds)  (2005 b))  Asian Stories for Young Learners. Vol. 2  Petaling Jaya: Pearson Malaysia

Maley, Alan and Jayakaran Mukundan (eds) (2005 c) Asian Poems for Young Readers.Vol. 3.   Petaling Jaya: Pearson/Longman.

Maley, Alan and Jayakaran Mukundan (eds) (2011a)) Asian Short Stories for Young Readers.  Petaling Jaya: Pearson Malaysia

Maley, Alan and Jayakaran Mukundan (eds)  (2011 b)) Asian Poems for Young Readers. Petaling Jaya: Pearson Malaysia.

Maley, Alan and Jayakaran Mukundan (2011 c))  Writing Poems: a resource book for teachers of English.  Petaling Jaya: Pearson Malaysia

Maley, Alan and Jayakaran Mukundan (2011 d))  Writing Stories; a resource book for teachers of English.  Petaling Jaya: Pearson Mal.aysia

McRae, John  (1991) Literature with a Small ‘l’.  Oxford.: Macmillan.

Matthews, Paul. 1994. Sing Me the Creation.  Stroud:Hawthorn Press.

Mukundan, Jayakaran.  (ed)  (2006) Creative Writing in EFL/ESL Classrooms II.  Petaling Jaya: Pearson Longman Malaysia

Rubdy, Rani and Mario Saraceni (eds) (2006) English in the World: Global Rules, Global Roles.  London/New York: Continuum.

Schmidt, Richard (1990).  ‘The role of  consciousness in second language learning’.  Applied Linguistics. Vol. 11, No. 2 129-158.  Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press.

Schumacher, E.F.  (1974).  Small is Beautiful.  London: Abacus/Sphere Books

Spiro, Jane  (2004)  Creative Poetry Writing.  Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press.

Spiro, Jane.  (2006)  Creative Story-building.  Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press.

Tan, Bee Tin (ed) (2004). Creative Writing in EFL/ESL Classrooms I  Serdang: UPM Press.

Tomlinson, Brian  (1998). ‘Seeing what they mean: helping L2 learners to visualise.’  In B.Tomlinson (ed). Materials Development in Language Teaching.  Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press.  265-78

Tomlinson, Brian (2001) ‘The inner voice: a critical factor in language learning’  Journal of the Imagination in L2 learning.  VI, 123-154.

Wright, Andrew and David Hill. (2008)  Writing Stories.  Innsbruck: Helbling Languages.


Writers Teach, Teachers Write

April 1, 2013

Kirk Branch

U.S.A.

Over 15 days, I traveled throughout the southern part of Nepal (“I went down,” I tell my friends in the United States, who expect to hear stories of the Himalayas), working with teachers and students – writers – who were looking for ways to incorporate creative writing into their English language classrooms. At the invitation of the U.S. Embassy, and hosted throughout by NELTA representatives in Kathmandu, Birgunj, and Kawasoti, my short trip will stay with me well after my return.

Before every workshop I ran, before the talk I gave in Birgunj, I asked participants a simple question: “How many of you are writers?” Sometimes, nobody raised a hand; occasionally, some raised a tentative hand, nervous about claiming the title of writer but unwilling to say that they weren’t. That question introduced the simple idea at the heart of all the workshops and conversations I had in Nepal: If you are not a writer, you are not qualified to teach writing. How can you teach guitar, if you can’t play guitar? How can you teach volleyball, if you don’t play volleyball? Of course you cannot, or at least you cannot do it very well.

And so, in all the places I traveled, we wrote. We wrote stories, and memoirs, and poems, haikus and slam poetry and fables. I heard stories about family members who sacrificed for their children, poems full of frustration at the current politics of Nepal, diatribes against the bandh. The writings were by turns funny, beautiful, sweet, angry. And we shared the writing, reading aloud, sometimes laughing, sometimes tearing up, sometimes feeling the anger and frustration, always supportive and always curious about what each participant had to say and wanted to explore.

In the process, I hope that the participants began to understand how to think like a writer. Writers know a few things about writing that non-writers don’t usually understand. Perhaps most importantly, writers understand that the rules provided in textbooks and in official curricula are usually too simple and often are just wrong. Some writers use an outline when they write, but most don’t. Some writers create texts with only five paragraphs, but most don’t. Some writers have a topic sentence at the front of every paragraph, but most don’t. Teachers who write as well as teach writing are better able to help other writers find things to write about and support them as they create a text, not by giving them strict rules, but by offering knowledgeable support.

All writers know that writing is hard, that becoming a more proficient writer requires regular practice, that even people who write for a living struggle with openings and agonize through several drafts to reach a level of satisfaction with their work. All writers know that at some point, they have to share their work with an audience, that their main job is to connect with that audience, and that all the questions they have about style and structure matter not because they are “rules for writing” but because style and structure are the ways the ideas of a writer become accessible for that audience.  All writers know that the work of learning to write never stops, that a piece of writing can always improve, that writers need support and encouragement as much as they need criticism and commentary.

By the end of the workshops I ran, by the end of my trip, more people raised their hands when I asked “Who here is a writer?” I hope that even more would raise their hands now. Being a writer, identifying as a writer, requires only that a person write, commit on a regular basis to the work of sitting with a piece of paper or in front of a computer screen and filling it with words, with language. I hope that these newly identified writers in Nepal experience the joy of discovery, of writing something they didn’t know they thought, of surprising themselves with a beautiful image or important idea or funny description. And I hope they share their writing with other writers and inspire them as well with their ideas.

Mostly, I hope these new writers – these writers who teach writing – use their experiences as writers to help their students engage with the task of writing and reading. I hope all the writers who are also teachers of the English language in Nepal will harness the creative power of their students to inspire each other and embrace the joy of creation, to write texts they care deeply about and want to share with other students.

Like teachers all over the world, teachers in Nepal must follow official curricula, must prepare students for tests required by the government. Like teachers everywhere, teachers in Nepal sometimes become frustrated by these requirements because they do not allow enough freedom for teachers. I hope that by joining with other teachers, by learning the power of creative writing, of helping students learn language – any language – by helping them become excited about what they have to say, teachers in Nepal can start to have more voice in shaping a curriculum they are excited to teach!

I end this piece with a poem I wrote during a workshop at the NELTA headquarters in Kathmandu, with a group of teachers and students who walked as much as 12 kilometers over the course of a 2-day bandh, to participate. I dedicate this poem to them, and to all the other participants I met in Birgunj and Kawasoti, who inspired and excited me to do my best teaching, who took my challenge to become writers, who I hope I will see again. It’s dedicated to all the people at NELTA who made my trip so wonderful and engaging. I hope I have a chance to meet some of you again. I promise I will never forget you!

Whose language is this, English?

Can I call it mine,

this language of my childhood stories,

my mother’s soothing,

my father’s rebukes,

my brothers’ tauntings,

my teacher’s lessons,

my lover’s caresses?

Yes, it is my language!

Does that mean I own it?

Do you own the water you hold in your hands?

Do you own the air you breathe into your lungs?

Do you own the spirit that animates your soul?


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