When someone teaches English at any level of education, six (or seven) skills come to mind. Grammar, vocabulary (and pronunciation) compose the first half of the fundamentals that students need to know in order to grasp the “form” of the language. Meanwhile, reading, writing, speaking and listening are in the second half – which we all know as the “four basic skills of the English language”.
All of the above skills have their challenges and difficulties. However, writing has been at the top of the “difficulty pyramid” – after all, it is an application of the other skills (except for speaking and pronunciation) that one has learned at school or elsewhere.
While doing my job as a teacher at a small private school in Manila, I decided to help students improve by focusing on introducing elements of creative writing.
Today, after three years of teaching, I saw that no one hated writing – although some of them are still unable to write due to their general lack of language skills.
It wasn’t easy at the beginning. Even though some students knew some things about writing, many others didn’t have much of an idea.
So, while teaching the parts of a text (plot, characterization, etc.), I made sure that they get to learn it by doing those stuff themselves.
This meant that students got to draw their characters or read out their story ideas in the class. Other times, they write chain stories – and there’s this one time where they needed to do a crude form of erasure poetry.
Great times. Yay!
Even with those activities, it wasn’t easy to make them love writing. It’s my one and only goal anyway.
If one translates it into curriculum objectives, it would probably look like this:
- Students will be introduced to the genre of literary nonfiction.
- Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences.
- Engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and introducing the characters.
- Use narrative techniques such as dialogue and pacing in order to develop the piece.
And I’m talking about sixth-graders here (read: population of 20).
On one hand, some of them would be at home inside a creative writing class. On the other hand, well, there are students who are unable to make a five-sentence paragraph.
Holy crap. Welcome to reality!
It took us a long time to get to this point. My students and I failed a lot in terms of coming up with a common ground. Seriously.
As a matter of fact, it took us three years to reach that goal.
But at least, I’m happy about what I did with this class.
I am proud of what they have achieved so far, even if it meant that some of them were not able to live up to my expectations.
Just as I set high expectations and standards for myself – and cry hard whenever I fail to bring it to the table, I expect the same of my students.
Many of them met their targets in their own way.
Best of all, at least they won’t be lost anymore when they read a poem or see a story on Wattpad, because they know now the skeleton of a story, at least.
My students now will be graduating – this particular group, I mean.
14 will go to our high school department.
Five will be leaving for other pastures.
The destiny of one of my students is yet unsure.
But I am proud and glad to have met them, even though they gave me some headaches from time to time – controlling 20 people is no easy task (I am still surprised at the way they handle bigger classes…)
I just hope that even if they forget all the principles of English, Reading and ESL that they’ve learned in class, they won’t forget the beauty of reading books and expressing themselves through writing.
I guess 2018 is a fruitful year for me in the teaching profession.
Looking forward to the next one!
For those friends who are reading this from Turkey, some pieces of friendly (and admittedly, unsolicited) advice:
- Make your students read things that they love to read.
- Make them visualize what you want in mind. This means that instead of explaining about the dramatic structure, you can divide them into five groups and make them act out the parts that correspond in a short play, for instance.
- One of my best activities is “Character Creation”, where they get to create their own character, with the drawings and everything. In 30 minutes, they’ll know for themselves why characters in stories are not supposed to be one or two-dimensional!
- Focus on vocabulary and how to effectively use them.
- Practice writing, even one sentence a day is enough.
Of course, in this regard, it’s quite easy considering that my students all know English.
But I guess it’s not bad to try, right?