Using the power of nature to boost our students' creativity
I have to admit that it has taken me a while to “awaken” my students’ imagination and help them move away from old clichés as far as their writing goes.
One of the methods that I have used is visualisations as they have the power to engage all the senses. In one of my recent visualisation-based lessons, I transported my students to an enchanting Winter Wonderland, which was inspired by a trip that my husband and I took to Bedgebury National Pinetum in Kent last December.
As you can see the atmosphere there was truly magical and it motivated me to create something special for my students. I knew some of them had never experienced real snow so making my guided imagery as vivid as possible was my new mission. And my students’ positive feedback showed me that I was onto a winner. Have a listen and see where my visualisation will take you.
Of course, I never use visualisations on their own and as you may well know I build a whole lesson plan so that my students can learn and practise the target vocabulary while visualising. You can find out more about my visualisations here.
Inspired by my winter guided imagery, my students created their own wonderland. Here are a couple of extracts:
…Suddenly, a quaking sound appeared over other sounds. A penguin came quaking for something. I came closer for a look and I saw…a person. The man turned around and greeted me with a warm smile. I asked him what he was doing here. He said he was a scientist working in Antarctica studying animals there. I was very happy to meet him at this wonderland with the penguins. The penguin quaked again as if it was talking to me…
It is early morning and you are going for a walk in the mountain. You feel the cold even though you are wearing warm trousers, a woollen sweater, a feather coat, a woollen scarf and gloves.
You are very surprised because suddenly your scarf starts to glow. The lights are a lot of fireflies that are showing you the way. While you keep walking, you see and smell pine trees whose needles are wet because of the morning dew.
At the end of the road, you reach a lake and you hear birds that are singing and a woodpecker knocking on the bark of the tree.
But you want to touch the water. When you put your hand in the lake, you feel the water is hot although it is very cold. Suddenly four mermaids go out of the water. They are smiling and tell you that they are the guardians of the mountain and they have calming power…
So if you want to embrace your students´ creativity, here´s a simple but effective writing activity.
Ask the students to choose a winter picture. They can either select one they´ve taken or choose an appropriate photo online. Here you can find lots of lovely images.
After each student has chosen their winter photo, ask them to draw a table with five columns. At the top of each column, they have to write one of the five senses: sight, smell, touch, hearing and taste. Then tell them to take a closer look at the picture and write suitable words in each column imagining they´re there, that is what can they hear/smell/see/touch/taste in that place?
Suggested time: 10 min
Ask the students to write a short story imagining they are at this location. They have to use all the words they´ve brainstormed in the previous activity. Set a time limit, I would suggest 15 min. Also, point out that their story must have a beginning, middle and end. Depending on their level of English and the grammar you want them to practise; they can either use past or present tenses. They could even imagine they were/are on holiday in this place and write about their experience.
Finally, if you have the chance, play some winter sounds while the students are working. You can find lots of videos on Youtube but here´s one that I would recommend:
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Sights and Sounds of Winter includes three lesson plans:
1. The little snowman
This is a visualisation-based lesson for young learners, in which the students will visualise their own snowman. They'll practise speaking, listening and writing skills. In one of the steps, they'll learn vocabulary related to comparing pictures.
2. Winter Wonderland
This is a visualisation-based lesson for teens and adults ( level B2). The students will learn new vocabulary and play a game to practise it. The visualisation is followed up by a reading comprehension task. Finally, they'll put their heads together to create their own Winter Wonderland.
3. Winter hot-air balloon race
This is an image-based lesson for teens and adults ( level B1/B2) in which they'll have to put on their creative hats and practise speaking and writing skills.
The lessons are a gentle mix of mindfulness and modern language teaching.