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Vol 32 No 2, April - June 1994
Page 38
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A Portrait of the English Student as a Young Hero
by Carme Manuel Cuenca


Students are used to practising their writing skills in English class. They often complete exercises, finish sentences, write compositions and summaries, etc. However, they seldom involve themselves personally in creative writing activities where they connect their own point of view to a fictitious persona. And yet I believe there is a very good reason to suggest activities that imply a certain - if not complete - degree of personal involvement. The feeling of becoming the main character(s) of the plot can only lead to a further motivation in the learning of the language. I suggest the following activities:


1. I Have a Problem


Level: intermediate to advanced


Organisation: individual


Procedure:


1. Students write a short love story divided into chapters. This story contains some problems. Students are the main protagonists and use their own names and surnames.


2. They tape it on a cassette and exchange it with another student (student A now has student B's story and the other way round). They listen to their friend's story at home and tape their advice to their friend's troubles.


3. The following day they exchange tapes and listen to the comments at home.


4. In the last class they speak about the solutions provided by their partners in a round-up session.


2. The Growing Pains of . . .


Level: beginners to advanced


Organisation: individual work


Procedure:


Writing a diary is not always an interesting activity for those students who are not used to jotting down their daily activities. However, this activity may become more alluring if


  • students write a diary limited only to a week,
  • students are given a chance to invent their own actions and do not need to stick to the truth, and
  • students are encouraged to illustrate the diary with newspaper clippings or their own pictures.


3. My Life as a Little Kid


Level: beginners to advanced


Organisation: individual work


Procedure:


Students write a little book for children about their own childhood and try to select some of the funniest things they remember about this period of their life. They think up an interesting title and illustrate the book with simple pictures they draw themselves.


4. A Poem


Level: beginners to advanced


Organisation: individual work


Procedure:


Writing a poem about one's life, family, friends, feelings, problems, interests, etc., should not be difficult. Teachers provide an example before telling students to write their own poems. Students may also tape their poem or read it aloud with some music.


5. Autobiography


Level: low intermediate to advanced


Organisation: individual work


Procedure:


Students write about their own lives. They can divide the content into periods that will vary according to each student's experience. They illustrate this autobiography with pictures they draw or with real photographs. They include descriptions of people and places, biographies of family members and friends, dialogues, and the like. They can also concentrate on just one period in their lives.


Teachers should provide an example of an autobiography in English, or in the students' language before they tackle the activity.


6. My Life as a Famous Character


Level: low intermediate to advanced


Organisation: individual work


Procedure:


Students imagine they are a famous character. They can choose a contemporary person or someone who lived long ago.


1. First they write about his/her life and time. This means that they will have to do some research in the library.


2. Once they have written their biographies, they dress up as their selected characters, speak about themselves, and answer their classmates' questions about the characters they are impersonating.


7. My Life as a Dog


Level: low intermediate to advanced


Organisation: individual work


Procedure:


This activity is a variation of the previous one. Students select their favourite animal (insect, reptile, mammal, etc.) and impersonate it. Before starting the activity, they should do some research in the school library about the life and habits of the animal they have chosen.


8. To Be or Not To Be


Level: high intermediate to advanced


Organisation: individual work


Procedure:


To be, or not to be,Dthat is the question:DWhether 'tis nobler in the mind to sufferThe slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,And by opposing end them?DTo die,Dto sleep,DNo more; . . .


(Hamlet , Act III, Scene One)


Hamlet's lines are well known and they can be used as an example for this activity. Students write a monologue about their problems, doubts, feelings, etc., with as many questions and feasible answers as possible.


A funny variation of this exercise is to write a hilarious monologue about a simple problem, i.e., going to the cinema or staying at home on the weekend. The monologue could start as follows: "To go to the cinema or not to go to the cinema, that is the question." Later students can act out this soliloquy for their peers or tape it, if that makes them feel more comfortable.


9. Personal Alphabet


Level: intermediate to advanced


Organisation: individual work


Procedure:


Students choose words starting with each letter of the alphabet. For example, for A, they choose ANT; for B, they select BEETLE, etc., until they complete the whole range of letters contained in the alphabet. If they cannot think of a word, they should look in the dictionary. However, two points are important: the word they select should suggest something to them and be connected with a personal experience, and they should draw a picture related to it. Once they have drawn the picture and written the word, they tell an anecdote or write a short story or poem about it.


10. Letters and Postcards from Abroad


Level: beginners to advanced


Organisation: individual/pair work


Procedure:


Students imagine they have gone on a trip to several countries in the continent they like best. They write their teacher/friends short letters and postcards from the different places they visit along the way. These letters and postcards tell about the sites they visit, the people they meet, the food they eat, and their adventures.


11. Book Characters


Level: beginners to advanced


Organisation: individual work


Procedure:


Students are used to reading graded readers. This activity is a way to exploit and test their content. They become the main protagonist and rewrite/ retell the story from their own personal point of view. They may also "become" a character in the story and alter the plot accordingly.


12. Newspaper Clippings


Level: intermediate to advanced


Organisation: individual work


Procedure:


Students choose an article from an English-language newspaper. They select a piece of news with a photo and become the protagonists of the event reported. If the piece of news is not concerned with a person, they act as a witness to the events.


As a variation, they can act as journalists reporting this piece of news. They rewrite it with new dialogues, data, graphs, charts, or other new information. They can tape it for a radio program or videotape it for TV news.


These activities are an interesting and attractive incentive for students as they integrate the four skills in a natural spontaneous way. Their emphasis is on fluency rather than on accuracy, and their main emphasis is on the process, not on the achievement of a perfect final product.

 

Carme Manuel Cuenca is assistant professor in the English Department of Val literature.
 

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