If you are a teacher you know only too well how challenging it is to make your students create a decent text, whether it is an essay or a simple email to a friend. I’d had years of such struggle until I decided to resolve the issue once and for all.
I’d been searching for engaging writing activities when I finally came across the following task. Students create a story by answering a number of questions. The brilliant thing about the questions is that you never know what genre the story will turn out to be in: comedy, horror, thriller, romance – you name it! In an advanced group you can even “assign” genres to different students, or, alternatively, they can blindly pick them.
At some point, I thought I wanted to try this exercise myself and you know what? I just couldn’t stop and the piece that I ended up with was surprising even for me. All you need to do is to give in to your imagination and just see how it goes.
When the questions provide clear guidance, you don’t have to deal with a very common I-have-no-idea-what-to-write-about problem that most student will use as an excuse. Another thing is, you can “adjust” the story according to your students’ level. Below you can see my own piece of science fiction together with the sample questions it’s based on.
It goes without saying, there’ll be plenty of errors and mistakes of different kinds because students’ attention will be shifted from grammatical or spelling accuracy to the content. You can choose how to deal with the correction depending on your teaching style. Personally, I don’t think correcting every single error would be a good idea as most of the corrections will be ignored anyway. Instead, it’s more effective to single out the most common mistakes from all the students’ texts and together analyze them and fix them with a few practice exercises. In any case, the priority should be given to the quality of correction, not quantity, which we, teachers, often tend to forget.
Alternatively, you can pre-teach topical vocabulary depending on the theme of the potential story and/or provide exercises that focus on narrative tenses, connectors, descriptive vocabulary, synonyms etc.
After all the works are graded and analyzed, the group can choose the best story and reward the best writer (that’s up to the teacher). Try this task with your students and you will see how much fun you can have together. Those rare moments of “ productive entertainment” cannot be underestimated because the type of memory associated with positive emotions works best for, in our case, language learning.
1. Make a story by answering the questions:
- How long have you been on the planet?
- Why did you go there?
- Describe the two people who are with you.
- Why is your spaceship damaged?
- When you decided to leave your ship, how far did you walk?
- What were you looking for?
- When did you realise that someone was following you?
- Describe the creature.
- While you were running away, you tripped and fell. What happened?
- What was the big surprise at the end of your story?
It was a hostile treacherous place, that unknown planet. Two merciless suns shone intensely in the daytime, forcing us to seek shelter in the shade. At night a huge pale moon stared blankly and, strangely enough, it did feel like home at first because some of the local nocturnal creatures had a habit of howling on the moon, just like Earth’s wolves do.
We’d been trapped there for ten days, or so it seemed. Ten endless days of despair, worry and courage. What first looked like a hospitable and quite livable planet turned out to be a cunning, deadly and unbearably miserable world. Something about it made me feel we had yet to discover more of its highly unpleasant features.
Eric, our biologist and at the same time a mechanic – quite an amusing mix, I must say – was surprisingly optimistic. As a matter of fact, all biologists I had met were like this – overenthusiastic when it came to discovering new life forms (no matter where), totally immune to both danger and common sense.
But, if honest, I think it was Eric’s undying enthusiasm that helped me cling to hope and not let go of it. For, if you lose hope in a place like this, you are a dead man.