Since I have studied the area of creative thinking and actually taught students these techniques, I would like to use much of the theory and many of the ideas in dealing with the problem of getting Spanish IV students to write creatively. I feel confident that once the students are exposed to the various activities I have planned, they will be more enthusiastic about writing.
My first objective, therefore, will be to establish a non-critical, non-threatening atmosphere in the classroom. The students will be encouraged to break loose from their preconceived notions of what the teacher wants. They will be encouraged to play with ideas and words. They will feel that writing time is special and different from the rest of the curriculum at this point. Later on, as it becomes an integral part of the course, the students will be more willing to be creative.
It is imperative that the tone of the classroom be set on the first day of school. After taking care of the formalities of the beginning of school, I suggest that the teacher play the following game with the students. Everyone sits in a circle. As it is the first time playing this game, the teacher should designate the person on his/her right to be first and the teacher will be last. The student is to introduce himself/herself and state something he/she likes. The next person introduces the previous person and then himself/herself. The third person introduces the two people before him/her, and so on. By the time it is the teacher’s turn, he/she will be able to recite all of the students’ names and what like. As this is a fourth year Spanish class, I s that this be done in Spanish. This game sets the for the class. At first the students will be a li shy, but they will soon enter into the experience enthusiastically, especially when on the following day, they are asked to tell either what they don’t like, or what object or animal they are or are not like. This can be done for three or four days. The students will then know everyone else’s name and something about all the members of the class including the teacher.
At the same time, perhaps the second day of school, the students should arbitrarily be put into pairs. Each student is to interview the other for three to five minutes. At the end of the time, each student introduces his partner to the rest of the class focusing on his/her likes and dislikes. This could be done in English or Spanish. The reason for this choice is that the object of the activity is to foster a group feeling and not to put students on the spot. There will be other opportunities later to work on their spoken Spanish.
In order for the students to profit from the activities mentioned above, and others which will be introduced later, they must be taught the rules for brainstorming as advocated by Osborn. They must learn that all ideas are acceptable. No criticism of ideas is allowed until a designated time. A great many ideas are necessary in order to find a truly unique idea. Combining and improving previous ideas (piggybacking or hitchhiking) is acceptable. The best way to introduce the technique of brainstorming is to pose the following question: “In how many ways can a ping pong ball (or coffee cup or hanger) be used?”
Have someone record all the ideas generated by the students on the blackboard. If they hesitate, wait a short while then interject one of your own ideas. This usually starts the students thinking again. When they again stop it probably is the right time to ask them to select the five most unusual uses of the coffee cup or ping pong ball or hanger. This should take between ten and fifteen minutes as it is the first time. Afterwards, you can limit the time to a total of ten minutes. Once the students become familiar with this method, it can be used in many classroom activities.
At this point the students should feel reasonably comfortable with the teacher and each other. To encourage them to share themselves the teacher can utilize any or all three of the following exercises. Giving the students a blank piece of paper, the teacher will ask this question: “In how many ways can you represent your name?” The students should have fifteen minutes to do the exercise and then there should be a group sharing of their work. The students might also be asked “How do the letters of your name describe who you are?” They should be allowed to depict their answers in any manner they choose. The third activity could be a collage (using many materials and textures), a montage (pictures), or a sculpture that the student creates of himself/herself.
The students should be encouraged to use all five of their senses. They should become aware of conceptual blocks which inhibit creativity. They can be helped to overcome these blocks with exercises proposed by James L. Adams in
Conceptual Blockbusting A Guide to Better Ideas
(San Francisco: W.H. Freeman and Company, 1974). Many of the problems in puzzle books also focus on creative solutions. Inkblots and other perceptual pictures help to break the blocks of the students. Sidney J. Parnes in his
Creative Behavior Workbook
(New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1967)-offers some excellent perceptual problems.
In helping students to use all five of their senses, a book by Bob Eberle called
Scamper Games for Imagination Development
(Buffalo, New York: D.O.K. Publishers, 1971) has interesting exercises for stretching the imagination through describing a situation or an object that students must visualize in their minds. The teacher can make up a story which the students must imagine. A typical story might be . . . “Imagine a park. Everywhere you look you see trees and grass and flowers. You see many children playing in the park, on the slide, on the swings, in the sandpile. You see an old woman walking. She is carrying an umbrella. She sits on the bench. She is crying. . . . ”
The teacher could also ask the students to close their eyes and listen to some instrumental music. When it is over they could either draw how the music made them feel or write about it.
Another approach is to use theatre games. A good source is Viola Spolin’s
Improvisation for the Theater
(Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1963) which can be borrowed from the ACES Teacher Resource Center at 800 Dixwell Avenue New Haven, Connecticut. An activity might be the following: Divide the class into small groups of three or four. Each group has the opportunity to suggest a situation or a title which another group must act out. Pantomimes can also be done in the small groups or individually.
Most of the activities planned for the students up to this point are nonverbal, that is to say, they are done without the use of pen and paper. The reason for this is that the students are conditioned to think of school subjects as writing assignments. In doing these activities, the students will be forced to think in other media and will achieve success as there are no wrong answers. In this manner, they will be encouraged to utilize all their resources in completing assignments.
As the students move from this phase of the unit into more writing, the non-critical, non-threatening atmosphere which I have established will be expanded to include the way the written work is approached. The students and I will work together on all writing assignments in a mutual give-and-take. Evaluation of all work will take the form of positive criticism and suggestions for improvement from both the students and myself. The focus here will be the ideas, images, and ways in which the students express themselves. Correction of sentence structure, paragraph formation, agreement of subject and verb, noun or pronoun and adjective, tenses, organization and other mechanics of writing in Spanish will take place as the need arises.